Rorate Caeli

100 years ago today, Padre Pio first received the Stigmata

The past century was in many ways a turning point for the course of history. Western societies were shattered by the two world wars that engulfed them. Communist errors achieved “super power” status in the Soviet Union and were spread throughout the world. A social and moral revolution transpired and important societal institutions, such as religion, marriage, and the family, were questioned, altered, and in many instances completely rejected. In the midst of this turmoil, as the world began to grow cold toward its Crucified Savior, God renewed the visible bleeding wounds of Christ’s Passion in the hands, feet, and side of a simple priest. The priest was St. Pio of Pietrelcina, affectionately known as Padre Pio.

As this month marks both the 100th anniversary of his reception of the stigmata, on September 20 1918, and the 50th anniversary of his death, September 23, 1968, approaches, we would do well to reflect on the significance of Padre Pio for our times.

He was born Francesco Forgione in the little town of Pietrelcina, in southern Italy, on May 25, 1887. He would become renowned as the greatest mystic of our times. His special qualities began to manifest from childhood; he had both celestial visions and diabolical oppressions from the age of five. He was able to see and speak often with Jesus, Mary, and his guardian angel. Despite terribly poor health, the young Francesco was strong in spirit and offered up these sufferings to be in union with the Suffering Savior. When he came of age, he received the habit of the Capuchin Franciscans and took the name Pio, thus beginning his religious life. He would become an eminently worthy follower of St. Francis of Assisi; indeed, he would come to be called the “Second St. Francis.”

The Padre was renowned for his sanctity and the countless souls he converted. His fellow friars often heard the sounds of the devil’s attacks on him emanating from his cell at night and the bruises would be evident on his body in the morning. This did not keep Padre Pio from his work in saving souls; a work which mystically extended to diverse parts of the world. He became renowned for his ability to bi-locate, that is, to be in two places at one time, often visiting people across great distances in need of a priest. But the greatest glory of Padre Pio was also his greatest suffering and humiliation—the stigmata. Let us reflect on the significance of this phenomenon on its 100th anniversary.

The stigmata would confirm Padre Pio’s sanctity and his union with the Cross of Christ as a victim soul for the good of the world. The bloody and terribly painful marks of the wounds of the Lord’s Passion on his hands, feet, and side reveal an instance of the sublimest union between a man and his Savior. Like St. Francis before him, Padre Pio was favored with the stigmata because he had submerged his individual self in Christ, so as to become truly an alter Christus, that is, “another Christ.” Padre Pio bore the stigmata for 50 years, until his death on September 23, 1968. His stigmata had been widely witnessed; even one of the doctors sent to examine the Padre by the Holy See, Amico Nignami, who was an outspoken atheist, came to eventually recognize his stigmata as authentic and a gift from God.

(Main excerpts of the article by Fr. Seán Connolly for Catholic World Report)