A woman venerates a relic of St. Padre Pio at Immaculate Conception Church Sept. 21 in Lowell, Mass. The church was the first stop in a Sept. 21-23 tour of the saint's heart in the Boston area. The trip marked the first time a major relic of St. Padre Pio has traveled outside Italy. (CNS photo/Gregory L. Tracy, The Pilot)
I was a young boy discerning a priestly vocation, I belonged to a
Padre Pio Prayer Group. In our meetings we would pray the Holy Rosary
for the intention of Padre Pio's beatification. I recall the
excitement of making summer pilgrimages via a long bus ride from New
York City to the rural Shrine in Washington, New Jersey. There I
would volunteer to serve the solemn outdoor Masses and enjoyed
participating in the outdoor Eucharistic processions and Stations of
the Cross. Little did I know back then, in the mid-1980s, that in
God's Providence I would one day find myself living as a graduate
priest in Rome on a rainy day in 1999 for Padre Pio's beatification.
recently, on September 23, 2016, the feast day of Padre Pio, I
participated in a beautiful procession through the streets of Rome.
It started at the Church of San Salvatore in Lauro (near Castel
Sant'Angelo), which is where several of Padre Pio's relics are
venerated, and made its way through one of my favorite streets in
Rome, the Via dei Coronari. It had rained before the start of the
procession, but then the bright Roman sun warmed things as we prayed
the Rosary and made our way into Piazza Navona and back to San
Salvatore in Lauro by the same route. The procession culminated in a
beautiful outdoor Mass attended by hundreds of the faithful and which
I was privileged to concelebrate and distribute Holy Communion.
was a wonderful devotional event in the heart of a secular city. It
served as a witness to Christ and His Church in the public square.
While many a tourist may have gawked at the procession out of
curiosity, others prayed fervently and even joined the procession
while shopkeepers and restauranteurs quietly made the sign of the
cross and added their subtle voices to our litany of Paters,
People wait in line to venerate the heart of St. Padre Pio at Immaculate Conception Church Sept. 21 in Lowell, Mass. (CNS photo/Gregory L. Tracy, The Pilot)
was particular moving to know that the Italian "Protezione
Civile" ("Civilian Protection") were intimately
involved in the organization of the procession and that in the Piazza
Navona the presiding Bishop, newly consecrated, would bless the
vehicles and instruments they use to help people in times of crisis
and natural disaster. Only a month earlier, in the wee hours between
September 23 and September 24, Central Italy was struck by a 6.2
earthquake that leveled several towns, among which the most famous
being Amatrice (hence, the famous pasta dish "Buccatini
Rome, there is a wonderful restaurant in Piazza della Pigna (not far
from the Pantheon), which I have frequented for years since I was a
seminarian studying in the Eternal City in the early 1990s. Recently,
I happened to stop by for "cena" ("dinner") and
greeted my friend, Massimo, who has helped run the restaurant for
quite some time, which until recently was directly owned by his
family. Massimo proceeded to tell me that his family originally came
from Amatrice and that on that fateful day of the recent earthquake
he lost several relatives and friends, including his brother, his
brother's wife and their young daughter. May God have mercy on their
souls and grant them eternal rest in His Kingdom!
was very touched and moved by Massimo's account and I held back tears
as the weight of his gentle words sunk in as I sat alone at my table.
It wasn't exactly the kind of news that stimulates one's appetite.
However, it was important that God led me to that restaurant that
evening and that I was able to provide Massimo with some consolation,
human and divine. While sitting at my table, an Italian man came over
to me and asked if I could offer him some priestly advice on how to
fix up his marriage of many years that was on the brink of falling
apart. Once again, I realized that it was a special blessing for me
to be in that particular restaurant on that particular evening.
These kinds of things happen for priests very often when they respond
to the Church’s desire that we always be identifiable.
to Padre Pio. Anyone who has ever visited Italy, especially Central
and Southern Italy, knows that Padre Pio is arguably the most popular
saint after the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Francis of Assisi and St.
Anthony of Padua. There is a veritable, indeed palpable fascination
with St. Pio of Pietralclina, perhaps more with him than with most
other saints ancient or contemporary. Like St. Philip Neri and St.
John Bosco, to name but a few, Padre Pio was misunderstood and even
maligned and considered suspect by authorities in the Vatican during
his lifetime. Nevertheless, as the Italians say, "le
vie del Signore sono infinite"
("the ways of the Lord are infinite"), and so, ultimately
it was Padre Pio's authentic sanctity and heroic virtue that
prevailed over any forms of cynicism and skepticism in his regard.
Pio was blessed with extraordinary sanctity, so much so that it was
transparent in his pure, dark Mediterranean eyes. Not many saints
can, for lack of a better term, boast (and Padre Pio never did!) of
being able to read souls, telling people their sins when they tried
to hide them from him in the confessional. Not many saints have borne
in their bodies the visible and mysterious imprints of the sacred
wounds of Christ Crucified known as the stigmata. Not many saints
levitate and bi-locate (that is, appear in two places at once). Not
many saints are physically thrashed around their rooms at night by
demons. Not many saints have celebrated Mass with the intensity of a
Padre Pio so as to be lost in contemplation of the elevated Species,
the consecrated Host of the Lord's Body and the precious chalice of
His saving Blood. And, to my knowledge, Padre Pio is the only saint
to have predicted the election of and assassination attempt on Pope
John Paul IIreportedly telling the future Pontiff and fellow
Saint this startling prophesy in a face-to-face encounter during the
latter's visit to San Giovanni Rotondo when Karol Woytyla was a young
A child is lifted to come into contact with the glass case containing the body of St. Padre Pio in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Feb. 6. The bodies of St. Padre Pio and St. Leopold Mandic were brought to Rome at the request of Pope Francis for the Year of Mercy. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
what above all else makes Padre Pio a fitting icon of the Holy Year
of Mercy we are currently celebrating? I would say that it was his
untiring devotion to the Sacrament of Penance where he (like St. John
Vianney) could spend up to seventeen hours on any given day hearing
mercy only makes sense if He has something to be "merciful"
about. Indeed, all of us, in varying degrees, give God a reason to be
merciful for we are weak, fallen sinners, the sons and daughters of
Adam and Eve. Padre Pio was a holy priest who understood in a most
profound way the nature of sin and, moreover, the nature of God's
infinite grace and mercy that reconciles, heals and elevates us.
Padre Pio's mercy also extended to spiritual direction for his more
serious penitents and to the corporal works of mercy manifested in
his decision to found "La Casa di Sollievo," ("House
of Comfort"), which is still flourishing as one of the most
effective and famous hospitals in Italy.
with Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who was canonized on September 4,
Pope Francis has given us two powerful icons of mercy. It is now up
to usto our free will in cooperation with God's sovereign graceto put mercy into action in our daily lives. Mercy is at the
heart of the Gospel message. Jesus, our Lord, was Divine Mercy
IncarnateDivine Mercy crucified, buried, risen from the dead
and ascended into glory. It is this Incarnate and Paschal Mercy that
He extends to us not merely now during the Extraordinary Jubilee of
Mercy but each and every day of our lives. We can and should have
recourse to God's mercy in private prayer, but that must find its
ultimate encounter with God's mercy in the sacraments, above all, in
the Sacrament of Confession.
Paul tells us: "Now is the acceptable time, now is the day of
salvation." This Jubilee Year, our twin devotion to Mother
Teresa and Padre Pio, should act as a clarion call to us and to all
sinners, especially fallen away Catholics, to take refuge in the
merciful hearts of Jesus and Mary. There is no time for
procrastination when it comes to the life of grace. We cannot afford
to hesitate, lest we become lost in our sinfulness and potentially
lose out on the salvation promised us in Christ Jesus and sealed for
us on the day of redemption by the Holy Spirit.
Mother Teresa and Padre Pio intercede for us and, by following their
example of mercy, may we come to know mercy both now and on the Day
of Judgmentthat is, at the moment of death and on the last day
when Christ, the "Ruler over all" ("Pantocrator"
in Greek) and yet the "Good Shepherd" ("Pastor
in Latin) will come again to judge the living and the dead.
that final procession occurs when our souls will appear before the
awesome Judgment Seat of Christ, let us ask Mother Teresa and Padre
Pio to accompany us at each and every Mass, which is the self-same
sacrifice of Calvary, as we pray: "Agnus
Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis"
("Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy
Pope Francis prays in front of the coffins containing the exhumed bodies of Sts. Padre Pio and Leopold Mandic displayed in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Feb. 6. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)