Today people all over the world are celebrating St. Pio of Pietrelcina, one of the most controversial and beloved saints in the history of Christianity. Unlike many of those holy people recognized in the Christian canon of saints, Francesco Forgione lived during the life of many of us (5/25/1887 – 9/23/1968). He entered the Capuchin Franciscan order at the age of 15 and took the name of Pio (Pius). He was ordained in 1910. After September 20, 1918, when he had a vision of Jesus and received the stigmata (the wounds of Christ) in his hands, feet and side, Pio suffered for the rest of his life. His deepest suffering came not from the wounds but from the notoriety, the claims that the wounds were self-inflicted, and from the embarrassment and humiliation of the cross he bore. Much of his life was spent in hearing the confessions of penitents and healing people near and far. He was reported to have several spiritual gifts including bi-location and was investigated many times but in the end was found to have been the conduit for many healings and declared a saint of the Roman Catholic Church in 2002. Most notable, it seems to me, is the fact that throughout the long and arduous process and steps toward canonization, there was no treatment of the extraordinary spiritual “gifts” but rather only focus on the verified healings and the holiness of life of this “suffering servant” of God.
Much has been written about Padre Pio and he is venerated the world over probably as much for his humility and willingness to be open to the suffering he bore for 50 years as for the image he was of the suffering Christ. We do not understand such happenings, nor should we celebrate or desire the suffering, but in this world of violence and pain in the everyday lives of so many people, we can give thanks for those, like Padre Pio, who do not lose hope in the face of their suffering and who put their faith in the God whose love is enough for them.