Saint Padre Pio was born Francesco Forgione on 25 May 1887 in the small comune of Pietrelcina, Italy. His parents, Grazio Forgione and Maria Giuseppa de Nunzio, were contadini – poor peasant farmers.
Francesco was said to be a quiet, religious child and at the age of five dedicated his life to God. When not tending sheep near the rented family farm in Piana Romana, his days were spent in quiet prayer.
As a youth he experienced heavenly visions and ecstasies and at an early age began to inflict penances on himself. Preferring not to use his bed, which he considered to be too comfortable, his mother would often find him asleep on the floor in the morning, having used a stone for a pillow.
The kitchen of the Forgione home and Padre Pio's bedroom.
On 22 January 1903, at the age of fifteen, Francesco entered the novitiate of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin. To begin the six-year journey to priesthood he travelled to the Friary by oxcart.
Pietrelcina farmer with donkey taken Spring 2007.
Due to Padre Pio’s on-going poor health he was not able to stay within the religious community. Between late 1910 and early 1916 he was permitted to live near his family in Pietrelcina, while still retaining the Capuchin Habit.
During this time he celebrated Mass, heard confessions and taught school. He would often spend time praying in the countryside near the farm at Piana Romana. It was there on 7 Sept 1910, while deep in prayer, that Jesus and Mary approached him and gave him the wounds of Christ, the Stigmata. so terrified by the phenomenon he begged the Lord to withdraw them. He did not wish the pain to be removed, only the visible wounds.
The rented Forgione farmhouse at Piana Romana, Pietrelcina.
In 1916 Padre Pio was ordered to return to community life and was assigned to San Giovanni Rotondo, located in the Gargano Mountains of Italy in the province of Foggia. With the exception of a year spent in the Italian army, Padre Pio would spend the remainder of his life here, at the Friary of La Madonna della Grazie.
Chiesa SS Madonna Della Grazie in San Giovanni Rotondo.
On the 5th, 6th and 7th of August, 1918 Padre Pio began to experience the phenomenon of transverberation. In a letter from Padre Pio to Padre Benedetto, dated August 21, 1918, Padre Pio writes of his experiences during the transverberation:
“While I was hearing the boys’ confessions on the evening of the 5th (of August) I was suddenly terrorized by the sight of a celestial person who presented himself to my mind’s eye. He had in his hand a sort of weapon like a very long sharp-pointed steel blade which seemed to emit fire. At the very instant that I saw all this, I saw that person hurl the weapon into my soul with all his might. I cried out with difficulty and felt I was dying. I asked the boy to leave because I felt ill and no longer had the strength to continue. This agony lasted uninterruptedly until the morning of the 7th. I cannot tell you how much I suffered during this period of anguish. Even my entrails were torn and ruptured by the weapon, and nothing was spared. From that day on I have been mortally wounded. I feel in the depths of my soul a wound that is always open and which causes me continual agony.”
On 20 September 1918, as Padre Pio was engaged in prayer in the choir loft in the Chiesa Madonna della Grazie, the same Being who had appeared to him and given him the transverberation, and who is believed to be the Wounded Christ, appeared again and Padre Pio had another experience of religious ecstasy. When the ecstasy ended, Padre Pio had received the Visible Stigmata, the five wounds of Christ. This time, however, the stigmata were permanent and would stay on him for the next fifty years of his earthly life.
Though Padre Pio would have preferred to suffer in secret, by early 1919, news about the stigmatic friar began to spread in the secular world. People from around the world began to flock to San Giovanni Rotondo, approximately 8 million pilgrims per year. In his lifetime he reconciled thousands of Christians back to their faith through confession and prayer.In addition to the Stigmata, he was also blessed with the gifts of healing, bilocation, levitation, the ability to read hearts and souls, and the gift of tongues.
Padre Pio loved people, loving them truly as God’s children and as his own brothers and sisters. For this reason he devoted much of his life to prayer and became “the scapegoat” of his fellow-beings to ensure their spiritual well-being. In order to soothe physical pain and wounds, he set up his very own “cathedral of charity” known as the “Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza” or “House for the Relief of Suffering” in San Giovanni Rotondo.
Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza, San Giovanni Rotondo, Italia
The first stone of the hospital was laid on May 1947 and the doors of the wards were opened 26 July 1954. The spirit and aim of Padre Pio in building the hospital, as in all his work, was the spirit motivated by his love and charity. It is considered one of the most modern and efficient hospitals in all of Itay.
On 23 September 1968, at the age of eighty-one, Padre Pio returned to God, with his rosary in his hands. His last words were “Gesú, Maria…” By the time of his burial, all visible marks of the Stigmata had disappeared. He was canonized on 16 June 2002 by Pope John Paul II at Rome, Italy.
Padre Pio is currently known as the patron saint of civil volunteer workers.
Chiesa SS Maria Degli Angeli, Pietrelcina, Italia
Piana Romana, Pietrelcina. The little chapel of Saint Francis of Assisi that sits near the site where Padre Pio first received the Stigmata.
(L) Pietrelcina - view of main piazza from the steps of the church. (C) View of Pietrelcina from Piana Romana (R) Pietrelcina window