Today on the US Catholic Bishops’ website, I saw the name of the saint being celebrated today. I must’ve been still half-asleep because I was thinking it was some obscure person from long, long ago. I decided to look up St. Pio of Pietrelcina to see if there was anything interesting about him. In doing so, I saw the dates marking the span of his life (1887-1968) and realized all at once that he was the beloved Padre Pio, known the world over for his holiness, his tirelessness in hearing confessions and his suffering – both physical and psychological. An Italian Franciscan friar, baptized with the name Francesco, he modeled the life of his patron, St. Francis, even to the point of having a vision of Jesus (9/20/1918) during which he received the stigmata, the wounds of Jesus, in his hands, feet and side. Twice over the ensuing 13 years, the authenticity of the stigmata was questioned and Pio (his religious name) was not permitted to celebrate Mass publicly or hear confessions. He did not question or complain and these decisions were subsequently reversed. His life was spent in the confessional, forgiving penitents in the name of God, and in concern for the physically ill and suffering people who came to him. Many cures were credited to his intercession. By his urging a 350-bed hospital was built and was called “House for the Alleviation of Suffering.” He died on September 23, 1968 and was named a saint of the Church on June 16, 2002.
Visionaries and stigmatics are not commonly known in our day; we more easily accept those like St. Francis and Catherine of Siena, saints who lived centuries ago. Detractors and the curious were many in the life of Padre Pio in the last century where reason and ability to explain unusual events was (and continues to be for most) the order of the day. Now, when science and spirituality are beginning to speak the same language in tentative ways, it is to our advantage to suspend judgment of how certain things happen and live with the evidence of that they have happened in order to expand our consciousness of how God and the universe conspire for the good of all.