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Padre Pio is Italy’s most loved saint. But the rest of the world seems to know little about him

St Pio of Pietrelcina, born 125 years ago, deserves to be celebrated by Catholics in Britain as well as Italy

By on Monday, 19 March 2012

A Padre Pio devotee in San Giovanni Rotondo, southern Italy (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

A Padre Pio devotee in San Giovanni Rotondo, southern Italy (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

One hundred and twenty-five years ago the world gave birth to a great saint: St Pio from Pietrelcina. I would like to make a small contribution to his reputation abroad. In Italy a poll found him to be our most beloved saint, but I am not sure he is well known outside his home country. He deserves to be remembered and celebrated by Catholics all over the world. Who was he?

He used to define himself as “just a poor praying friar”. St Pio (commonly known as “Padre Pio”) was born May 25 1887 in Pietrelcina, a remote village in the midst of southern Italy. The Capuchin friar became famous for being the first priest in history to bear the stigmata. He performed many miracles and wonders: healings, readings of hearts, prophecies, even bilocations. There are people who testify with conviction to have seen or met him in every corner of the globe, but he never moved from southern Italy. There are still thousands of people who claim to be healed out of the blue after having prayed, thought or dreamed of him. Also many celebrities call themselves devotees of Padre Pio. From 1918 to 1968, when he died, his body bore “stigmata” – that is, visible and bleeding wounds in his hands and feet.

For a while he was persecuted by the Vatican, who suspended him “a divinis” and put in place several restrictions on his activities. But he was a tough cookie, or better, a real saint. So he ended up becoming friend of a pope. Some reports say that in 1948 St Pio prophesied to a young priest named Karol Wojtyla that he would become pope. We don’t know if this is true, because there is no evidence, but we know for sure that in 1962 Bishop Wojtyla wrote to Fr Pio to ask for the healing of a person, who was then actually healed, and medical professionals were unable to offer an explanation for the phenomenon. On June 16 2002, Pope John Paul II canonised him – another good reason to worship him in Britain.

  • Joel

    please, lets not worship him! I know its just a language slip, but I think its important to get these things right

  • Jonathan

    I agree with Joel, I think it’s important to clarify to any non-Catholics reading the post that we don not worship the saints.

  • Parasum

    In the nature of things, some Saints are going to be household names, while others are not. STM we should make more of our own Saints, rather than being content to venerate foreign ones. Hands up all those who have even heard of St. John of Bridlington, or of St. Stephen Harding (to name but two English ones).

    The word “worship”, as used of the Saints, *could* in some sense be justified – but, as has been pointed out, it is not desirable; not when there is already so much misunderstanding of Catholic doctrine. The Church venerates the Saints, but only in dependence on Christ. Nothing can be allowed to obscure Him. And it is the prospect that He will be overshadowed by the Saints, that often causes unease with Catholic practice.

  • Anonymous

    I always thought Padre Pio was very well known in the Catholic world.

  • Anonymous

    Agreed, this is a very unfortunate slip of the keyboard.

  • Guesty

    In fairness, I think Padre Pio is very well known in Ireland where his bearded face adorns some car windows or rear view mirrors. Pictures and statues of him are not uncommon – certainly amongst the older generations. I’ve actually used him to explain to English friends how Ireland is different to England in only the little ways. We are mostly quite similar culturally but most people in Ireland (certainly above 30) would know who Padre Pio is – or would at least recognise his photo.

  • Sal

    I am sorry if Padre Pio is not well-known in Britain.  I would say that he is indeed known in the US, although naturally not to the same degree as in Italy.

  • Fr. Dismas Sayre, O.P.

    Padre Pio is very well-known here in the US.  Not as much as St. Therese, perhaps, but the Capuchins have done a very good job in promoting his virtuous life this side of the pond.  I’m a Dominican friar, and I greatly admire his thirst for souls and long hours spent in the confessional. 

    Allow me also to mention a good book on the subject: “Padre Pio: Under Investigation.”  I think you will find it a very fair treatment of the controversy with the Vatican offices.  

  • Enlightened

    If you look at theis fanciful story again you may see that the Vatican didn’t believe him, they knew he was a fraud – but he was a popular fraud and fearing a backlash from the  100,000+ followers of Pio they decided best not to make an enemies of them.
    The guy clearly had epilepsy or similar, was brainwashed in an incredibly religious home, next to zero education, and was masochistic. By hurting and starving himself he brought on ‘visions’… I can’t believe that people are dumb enough to fall for this.  Cmpare Pio with Oscar Romero and ask which one you think Jesus would prefer?  Pio sounds like Bar-Jesus of old.