“Another crown, more beautiful than this one, I have preserved for you if you will fight… He will always return to the assault; you will fight completely assured of my help. Do not worry about his strength; I will be close to you, I will always help you, and you will succeed in conquering.”
These were the words Our Lord said to the 15-year-old Francesco Forgione – Padre Pio, or Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, as we now know him. In December 1902, Francesco had a vision of Jesus appearing to him in the form of a man who was as resplendent as the sun. Jesus then took him to a large battlefield and urged him to fight like a warrior. Francesco stood in the middle of two camps: on one side were splendid men in white clothing and on the other side were beastly men dressed in black. Standing directly in front of little Francesco
and lunging at him with all its might was a gigantic beast with a forehead that touched the clouds. Although the struggle was great, with the help of Jesus, Francesco crushed the creature.
In 2018, it is now 50 years since St Pio’s death and 100 years since he visibly received the stigmata. Today as we celebrate the feast of this extraordinary saint in a world entangled in the webs of immorality and disbelief, let us draw inspiration from his triumphant defeat of the Evil One so that we too may have the strength to fight on.
When our Church feels like it is on the brink of collapse, we must put on the armor of faith, grasp the shield of prayer and combat with the weapon of truth. In the words of St. Padre Pio, “Pray, hope and don’t worry.”
The battle will never end, but we must fight on. Amid this current crisis, from the media’s blatant hatred of Christianity and the curtailing of our religious freedoms, right up to the corruption and scandal coming from within our Church, it feels like we are being attacked on all fronts. But we must fight on. Even if you are the last man standing, fight on. For whoever perseveres till the end will be rewarded.
In his lifetime, Padre Pio heard approximately three-million confessions. Many spent hours queuing for him or even waited, after getting a ticket, to return after two to three weeks. Today, with the current spiritual drought that we are facing in our parched Church, many of us thirst for this great zeal, passion and unwavering faith. The resumption of this widespread burning love for God from both our clergy and laity will undoubtedly open the floodgates to hope, sustenance and healing.
Integral to Padre Pio’s life of unending spiritual warfare was the 50-year-long battle he endured through the excruciating pains of the stigmata for the atonement of sins. On the morning of the 20th of September 1918, after he had celebrated Mass, Jesus appeared to Padre Pio and said, “I unite you with my Passion.” From that moment on until Padre Pio’s death, his hands and feet were pierced completely through with large, circular wounds. His side wound bled more than any of his other stigmata. Despite the persistent attempts of doctors, physicians, and scientists to treat his wounds, nothing worked. Whether they were bandaged or left open, the wounds never closed, never got infected and never reeked. Instead, at times the aroma of incense, violets, and roses emanated from his wounds.
Like a person dashing away from the limelight, Padre Pio never publicized his stigmata and concealed them with gloves (except when saying Mass). He often described how it was not the pain but the shame that perturbed him. The wounds began to close up in his final days on earth, and on the day he died, his wounds were completely gone.
As a priest, Padre Pio’s life was like a battlefield. He faced persecution from within and without. From the rigorous investigations of his phenomenal stigmata to being forbidden to undergo many priestly duties, not once did he complain, disobey or rebel.
When the cause of Padre Pio’s canonization was opened in 1990, an overwhelmingly large pool of testimonies was collated, taking up 104 large volumes. Notably, one of the most prized miracles that will forever be imprinted on the great sands of time was his astonishing cure of Gemma di Giorgi who was born blind and without pupils. Doctors deemed her case to be a lost cause. But when she was taken to Padre Pio in 1947, she
was permanently cured of blindness, even though no pupils appeared.
During WW2, Padre Pio famously earned the trademark title of the ‘flying friar’. When pilots were ordered to bomb the region of San Giovanni Rotondo in Italy, where Padre Pio resided, many testified to seeing a Friar in the sky who stretched out his wounded hands to send them away. This flying monk stopped the bombers dead in their tracks and they immediately retreated. The town of San Giovanni Rotondo remained unscathed during
As we reflect on Padre Pio’s great legacy, let us remember to be instruments of God’s will when we fight the good fight. The battle lines are drawn and it is not going to get any easier. But is it through faith, righteousness and boundless love for God and our neighbor that we will have the willpower to fight on.