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Saint of the week

The friar whose hands and side bled for 50 years

St Pio of Pietrelcina (September 23) decided to be a Capuchin friar at the age of 10

By on Sunday, 23 September 2012

The body of Padre Pio lies in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in San Giovanni Rotondo  (AP)

The body of Padre Pio lies in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in San Giovanni Rotondo (AP)

Padre Pio (1887-1968) affords a striking modern instance of stigmata.

He was born Francesco Forgione into a peasant family at Pietrelcina, north-east of Naples. His parents lacked nothing in devotion, attending Mass daily, saying the rosary nightly and fasting three times a week. Although illiterate, they knew the gospels well, and passed on their knowledge to the children. (Francesco had an elder brother, Jack, and three younger sisters.)

By the age of five Francesco was exclusively religious. For play, he would sing hymns, pray and pretend to be a priest. For conversation, he turned to Jesus, the Virgin and his guardian angel. For combat, he fought off the attacks of the Devil. He was a solitary child.

At 10, Francesco heard a Capuchin preach and decided that he wanted to be a friar, “with a beard”. The local friary, however, demanded that he be further educated. His father, in order to finance a private tutor, went to work in America.

And so, in 1903, at the age of 15, Francesco took the habit of the Order of Friars Minor, assuming the name of Pius in religion, in honour of Pope Pius V, who had excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I.

In September 1910, after his ordination the previous month, Pius experienced pains in his hands and feet. He asked for his wounds – “an annoyance” – to be taken away, and found his prayer granted. “I do want to suffer,” he explained, “even to die of suffering, but all in secret.”

In 1911 Pius, apparently sick, was sent home from the monastery. It would be another five years before he was ordered to return to community life.

In August 1917 Pius was called up into the Italian Medical Corps; by October he had been placed in hospital himself. 
Early in 1918 he was sent to the monastery at San Giovanni Rotondo, on the Gargano peninsula, which juts into the Adriatic. There he would remain for the rest of his life.

Wounds appeared in Pius’s side and hands in August and September 1917, phenomena copiously attested by medical photographs. In spite of his embarrassment and pleas for relief, the bleeding would continue for 50 years.

The Church treated his stigmata with extreme caution; and indeed Padre Pio described the phenomenon as “a mystery to myself”. Inevitably, his affliction excited huge popular devotion, at first actively discouraged by the

Pope Pius XII, however, showed himself wholly convinced, so that the cult of Padre Pio gained redoubled force. After the Second World War the UN provided funds for the development of a Home to Relieve Suffering which he had started at Giovanni Rotondo.

The stigmata mysteriously disappeared two days before Padre Pio’s death on September 23 1968. He was canonised by Pope John Paul II in 2002.

  • Benedict Carter

    St. Pio, pray for us.

  • Lewispbuckingham

    “The stigmata mysteriously disappeared two days before Padre Pio’s death’
    Perhaps the saint’s peripheral circulation shut down two days before death curtailing the bleed.

  • JabbaPapa

    Perhaps there are no denials that you would not conjecture to declare your love for atheism.

  • Reno

    I dearly need prayers with the intercession of saint Padre Pio from our christian brothers.May God Bless you.

  • Lewispbuckingham

     I believe in God ,JP, but not because a saint”s circulation fails.
     To me that is not in anyway essentially mysterious.The Catholic Church deals with things that are truly metaphysical in a rational way.It is important that scientific findings be only illuminated by the metaphysical rather than described by the metaphysical.The opposite is true, that the metaphysical not be described by science, which by definition does not approach the metaphysical.
     If it is your belief that Padre Pio’s relief two days from his passing into eternal life was a miracle then my thought was that it was a natural event and part of the mechanism whereby he was relieved of suffering.So I agree that God works through the events of the real world that is physical.He also obeys his own laws.

  • whytheworldisending

    When you say, “So I agree that God works through the events of the real world that is physical.He also obeys his own laws,” you appear to be saying that you don’t believe in miracles, but you also don’t say what you mean by “his own laws.” If you mean the laws of nature, then you cannot mean that God is subject to those laws, because if you did you would believe that nature is supreme, and would be a type of atheist – a Pagan for instance. That however is inconsistent with your statement that you believe in God. Atheists have their “gods,” but these are idols. When elevated to the status of a god, Nature becomes an idol, and paganism is a form of idolatry.

  • Lewispbuckingham

     ‘What is truth asked jesting Pilate and did not stay for an answer’
     On the bottom of the world we ‘just’ had our first saint, wheras you are replete with them.During that first for us we were taught that a medical miracle is defined as an event that cannot be explained by modern medical science.
     Two days before her death my mother was dehydrated and her peripheral circulation shut down and she could therefore not bleed.My late grandmother suffered from Paget’s disease, now treatable. My father saw her accidently cut herself with a kitchen knife, she did not bleed.
     So without any special knowledge I hope both are saints but do not believe that the events of not bleeding were essentially mysterious or could not be explained by modern medical science.
     Note that I accept that the physical laws of nature are God’s own laws.I did not say that Nature is ‘supreme’, whatever that may mean.
     Through the passion and death of Christ the ‘great Pan is dead”.
     I did not say that God is subject to his own laws, I said that he obeyed his own laws.
     What I have failed to do is define what his own laws are, which he has created de novo.
     What is essentially mysterious involves to us is the breaking of known physical laws.For me, my own conclusion, is that there is a set of laws which we as man may never understand.My own thought is that God not only obeys and is subject to these laws,but in fact IS those laws,which are driven by a core of Love.God IS the ground of being.
     It is in this context that it is better not to trivialise a fully scientifically understandable event as a miracle.By doing so it prevents rational enquiry as to the nature of the existential universe.

  • Rick

    It never ceases to amaze me how many of us (I do, sadly, include myself in that broad and part-time category) leap on a commentor like a rabid dog at the first whiff of controversy. Sadly, some of us Catholics are just as rabidly inane as the rest; I remember someone hilariously accusing me of being a ‘Protestant’ because I didn’t have some sort of simplistic, pop-music notion of Emperor Constantine’s complicated relationship with Christ’s one holy catholic and apostolic Church (bureaucratically and otherwise).

    Lewis, your first comment made perfect sense to me – not as some foam-mouthed, axe-swinging atheist, but as someone who was offering a possible explanation of something that happened in history. You weren’t saying St. Pio’s stigmata weren’t real; you weren’t trying to set fire to the dogma of the Virgin Birth, or blow up a local Catholic church. You were simply saying ‘what if’ to something that wasn’t central to a saint’s canonisation and so forth. My word, how people will knee-jerk over such silly, sacrosanct details.

  • Lewispbuckingham

     Thanks Rick.

  • Baf263

    Despite his pious upbringing I often wonder whether his stigmata was a fake. Many said that he used carbolic acid

  • Guest868

    Either the most pious person and the best saint since Francis of Asissi who also had the stigmata. Or the greatest fake in recent times. People in the Capuchin order knew him. They should come on this site to contribute freely what they know of him. They are the insiders. And the Capuchin are a closed and brotherly union. They know the story. They should post their experiences with the man here otherwise the stories will die and we will never know.

    Stigmata? Well the man contributed to the rise of vocations for the Capuchins whose seminaries were overflowing and the stigmata also help to raise enormous funds. But in the end was it real or an elaborate fake?

  • whytheworldisending

    Lewis, said “Note that I accept that the physical laws of nature are God’s own laws,” and also “My own thought is that God not only obeys and is subject to these laws,but in fact IS those laws.” But the Laws of Nature, as we see them, cannot be equated to God. However sophisticated our science and technology becomes, the Word of God is not simply the sum total of our observations about the observable Universe.The laws of Physics are part of God’s creation.

  • whytheworldisending

    May Padre Pio intecede for you and may God Bless you.