PIO, MARY, AND THE ROSARY
By Joseph A. Pelletier, A.A.
Padre Pio, the stigmatic Capuchin priest, was the first priest ever
to bear the visible wounds of Christ in his body. This and other
powerful charismatic gifts drew thousands of people each day to
Padre Pios monastery in the village of San Giovanni Rotondo,
near Foggia on the Adriatic coast of Italy.
A very great source of this saintly mans exceptional spiritual
power was his devotion to the mother of Jesus. It was second only
to his devotion to the Eucharist which was manifested in a dramatic
way through his ecstatic celebration of the Mass. Padre Pios
Mass deeply moved all who were privileged to witness it.
HIS PARENTS WERE OUTSTANDING CHRISTIANS
The mind and heart of those destined by God for important missions
are shaped by His grace as it works through human agencies, among
which parents usually figure very prominently. So it was with Francesco
Forgione, born in Pietrelcina near Benevento, Italy, on May 25,
1887, and later known by the name of Pio which he adopted when he
entered the Capuchin branch of the Franciscan Order. His father
Orazio and his mother Maria Guiseppa were outstanding Christians,
poor in the things that the world esteems but rich in those that
count with God.
and Maria Guiseppa recognized the hand of God on their son and,
when he gave himself to the Lord and to St. Francis at the tender
age of 11, Orazio told his son: I shall go and work in America.
You will have books. I will be able to pay for your studies.
Orazio went first to Buenos Aires from 1898 to 1905 to earn the
necessary money. In 1910 he sailed again and until 1917 worked in
New York and the Bay of Jamaica to defray the medical expenses that
resulted from illness of the then Brother Pio. These were powerful
lessons of self-sacrifice that would not be lost on the young man
whom God had called to a special life of suffering.
From Maria Guiseppa, his mother, Francesco acquired those great
twin loves of his life: the Eucharist and the mother of Jesus. The
good Maria abstained from meat three times a week in honor of Our
Lady of Mount Carmel, and she attended Mass on weekdays as frequently
as she could.
So, we see again an example of the profound influence of parents
on their children, a fact so often verified in the lives of the
saints and which Our Lord reminded us of when He told us that good
fruit comes from good trees (Matt: 7:16-20). Considering the example
of his parents, we are not too surprised when we learn that young
Francesco used to stop at the village church of Our Lady of the
Angels to visit the Blessed Sacrament and to pray to Our Lady of
Liberty, the special patroness of the area, or that he also prayed
before images of Mary, St. Michael, and St. Anthony of Padua at
a simple outdoor shrine near his humble home. Love of Mary and of
the Eucharist would grow daily and at a parallel pace all during
EXTRAORDINARY LIFE; FREQUENT VISIONS
Padre Pios life was so filled with the unusual and extraordinary
that the modern critical mind has trouble with it. One could almost
say that Padre Pio breathed the extraordinary, so habitual were
these things in his life. And yet these facts that defy the imagination
are well established and duly authenticated. They come to us from
well-informed and reliable witnesses.
Special gifts of God manifested themselves very early in his youth
and continued throughout his life. Before he was nine years old,
he was enjoying frequent visions of Our Lady and the visible presence
of his Guardian Angel. Diabolical manifestations also began to occur
during his early youth and took on many forms over the years.
In 1911, when Padre Pio was 24 years old, he spent about 40 days,
from October to December, in the Capuchin monastery in Venafro,
a small provincial town of Isernia. He had been ordained on August
10 of the previous year and went to Venafro to study sacred eloquence
under the guidance of Father Agostino of San Marco in Lamis.
Father Agostino had previously taught theology to the young Capuchin
and had been his spiritual director and confessor for several years
prior to his coming to Venafro. He would remain his spiritual director
and confessor until he died in 1963, five years before the death
of Padre Pio. THE DIARY OF FATHER AGOSTINO OF SAN MARCO IN LAMIS
is one of our most authentic sources of information on the famed
Padre Pios 40 days at Venafro were like a blueprint or capsule
preview of much of his life. All kinds of unusual happenings and
special spiritual gifts filled this short period. Father Agostino
was an eyewitness to these events, including the diabolical attacks,
and he describes them in his DIARY.
Among these extraordinary happenings was a mysterious, on-and-off
illness that defied doctors. This complicated malady included very
high temperatures, pulmonary infections, coughing, agonizing chest
pains, upset stomach, very painful headaches, crises of acute and
paralyzing rheumatism, and on one occasion his sight was so menaced
it was thought that he might go blind.
At Venafro, as well as during much of Padre Pios life, there
were manifestations of the devil, including severe physical beatings.
But these appearances and molestations by the devil were richly
compensated for by very frequent heavenly visions and ecstasies.
Padre Pio was able to live on the Eucharist alone without any other
nourishment. At Venafro he stayed at least 20 days in this way.
There, too, as later, he was given to know the hidden secrets of
men, what they were thinking and the temptations they were enduring.
Father Agostino affirms that Padre Pios apparitions and ecstasies
began in his early youth and were continual. Because they started
so early in his life and were so frequent, Padre Pio took them completely
for granted. When he was asked why he had kept them hidden for so
long, he gave the surprising and candid answer that he thought they
were quite ordinary things that happened to everybody.
Father Agostino adds that one day Padre Pio asked him very naively
if he had visions of the Madonna. When he replied that he did not,
the Capuchin stigmatist replied: You dont want to admit
it because of humility.
According to Father Agostino, Padre Pios ecstasies took place
two or three times each day and lasted from one to two-and-a-half
hours. They generally occurred after the diabolical manifestations
and consisted of visions of Jesus and Mary, of his Guardian Angel
(who was rarely missing during any apparition) and of the Saints,
among whom St. Francis occasionally figured. The visions that followed
the attacks of the devil were to comfort, console, and one time
even physically restore him.
During one of these ecstasies at Venafro, Father Agostino checked
Padre Pios heartbeat and pulse. The heartbeat was exceptionally
strong and rapid, as though the heart were about to burst. During
the ecstasy, Padre Pio could be heard repeating: Lord, whats
the matter with my heart? Does it want to leave me? Take it, its
Yours! I love You, I love You.
Father Agostinos observations were verified later by Doctor
DeVincenzi, a physician from Pozzilli, during the final ecstasy
at Venafro, December 31, 1911. The doctor was amazed to discover
that Padre Pios heartbeat was not synchronized with his pulse.
He was also enraptured by the beauty and vivacity of the monks
countenance during the ecstasy.
Two other gifts, bilocation and prophecy, were first manifested
on January 18, 1905, when Padre Pio was only 17 and still a seminarian
at the Capuchin monastery of St. Elia a Pianisi. He described this
manifestation in writing in February of that same year.
happened at about 11 oclock in the evening as he was praying
in the choir of the chapel. He states that suddenly he found himself
at the same time in the palace of an extremely wealthy family
in the city of Udine. The owner of the palace was at the point of
death, while his wife was about to give birth to a daughter. Our
Lady appeared to Brother Pio at the palace and told him that she
was entrusting the unborn child (actually born that very night)
to his care and protection. He would be her spiritual director and
it would be his mission to shape and polish her and
make her into a brilliant jewel. When the humble brother
asked how this could be possible since he was only a seminarian
and not yet a priest, and in any event would be living far from
the palace, Our Lady predicted that his spiritual daughter would
come to him, but that at first he would meet her in the basilica
of St. Peter in Rome. The young capuchin then states: After
that, I found myself back in the choir.
What Our Lady foretold came about as she had announced, and this
womans extraordinary case is presently being used in the cause
of beatification and canonization of Padre Pio, the preliminary
phase of which was initiated on November 23, 1969, just 14 months
after his death (September 23, 1968). This particular incident of
bilocation and prophecy also highlights still another of Padre Pios
gifts, one very special to him, that of his spiritual paternity.
He had many thousands of spiritual sons and daughters
throughout the world. These were people who had asked him directly
for this relationship, or who automatically attained it by becoming
a member of the Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima. Padre Pio prayed
regularly for all his spiritual children. He told them to lead good
lives and to pray the rosary, and he said for all of them, I
will see you in heaven.
exceptional gifts of Padre Pio mentioned above, and still others
that manifested themselves later, were for the most part ministry
gifts, bestowed on Padre Pio for the welfare of others. Thus, the
visible stigmata and the fragrance that came from these wounds,
the visiting of people in bilocation, the ecstatic celebration of
the Eucharist, the reading of mens minds and consciences,
were all gifts for the welfare of the people who saw or heard these
things or were otherwise involved in them.
In his DIARY, Father Agostino says that one day he questioned Padre
Pio about his gift of discernment. His answer is very enlightening:
In the souls of others, I see clearly through the grace of
God, but in my own I see only darkness. Padre Pio had a spiritual
director for his personal guidance all during his religious life.
He leaned very heavily on him at first; later, as his soul was purified
and enlightened and he gained experience, he was much less dependent
Some of the special gifts that Padre Pio received were specifically
sanctifying gifts, such as the gift of prayer and contemplation.
Also many of the apparitions of Our Lord, of Our Lady and of the
Guardian Angel, though not directly sanctifying in themselves, were
indirectly powerful aids to drawing Padre Pio closer to God. He
was consoled and encouraged by them. He saw in them proofs of Gods
love for him, and this nurtured the powerful sanctifying virtues
of faith, hope and love.
For example, Our Lady appeared frequently to Padre Pio. She spoke
with him and comforted him. He developed a tender love for her and
invoked her with the words, Mamma mia. In a letter to
Father Agostino, Padre Pio wrote that on that very morning his heavenly
mother had lovingly accompanied him to the alter and that his heart
had been filled with holy affection. Poor little Mother, how
much she loves he, he wrote.
PRAYED CONTINUALLY: THE CROSS AND THE ROSARY
The great gifts by which Padre Pio is so well known were not substitutes
for the normal working of Gods saving grace. Like all of us,
he needed the regular channels of grace- the Sacraments, scripture,
the Mass and private prayer. In fact, his need for prayer was very
great, in direct proportion to the greatness of his mission and
of the gifts received for the fulfillment of that mission. Prayer
was for Padre Pio, as for us, the means of obtaining Gods
help for avoiding sin and practicing the Christian virtues.
Padre Pio was chosen by God to teach and to remind the world of
the redemptive value of Christian suffering. That is the divine
purpose behind his mysterious, life-long illness, the long years
of molestation by the devil, the tedious hours in the confessional
and the 50 years of atrocious pain in his hands and feet, his side,
shoulders, and head. God chose him to remind a world which had come
to shudder at the very thought of pain and suffering that man is
expected to share in the sufferings of Christ, after the manner
of St. Paul: In my own flesh I fill up what is lacking in
the sufferings of Christ for the sake of His body, the Church
(Col. 1:24. See also II Cor. 4:10-11).
Continual prayer was vital to Padre Pio because of the continual
crosses that he was called to carry. This began in his very early
youth. When he was only six years old, he would leave home early
in the morning to go to the mountain to pasture two sheep owned
by the family. He went with another child of his age. Rather than
play, as his friend wanted to do, he made little crosses with twigs
of wood and planted them in the ground. The remainder of the time
he spent reciting the rosary. The cross-in many forms- and the rosary.
These would be the two most representative things of Padre Pios
The rosary was part and parcel of Padre Pios love for the
mother of Jesus. He used this prayer to maintain and nourish his
love of Mary. But he also used it as a most powerful intercessory
aid for obtaining from God the help that he needed for himself and
that he sought for others.
The saintly Capuchins love of Mary and constant recourse to
her through the rosary was based on the teaching and recommendations
of the Church, for which he always had the greatest respect, also
on his sense of faith, which was a gift of the Holy Spirit. His
love for his heavenly mother and his confidence in the power of
her intercession grew daily through what one priest has called,
the reality test- the proof of experience.
As one would expect from someone so filled with the love of Mary
and so convinced of the power of the rosary, Padre Pio recommended
both to all who approached him and particularly to his spiritual
children who sought his very special protection and help.
He sent them all to the mother of Jesus and told them to say the
rosary every day.
Padre Pios example confirmed his words. He gave the example
of private, personal use of the rosary, as well as public recitation
of that prayer. Those who saw Padre Pio in what he called his free
moments, as he walked from one place to another, will remember him
holding the rosary to his breast and praying it as he walked. Father
Eusebio of Castelpetroso, a Capuchin who was Padre Pios constant
companion for five years, once decoyed him into revealing that on
a particular day he had said 60 rosaries of 15 decades. It must
be remembered that Padre Pio slept at the most two or three hours
a night, never continuously, and often he never slept at all. The
precise number of rosaries he said each day, of course, is not the
point. The point is that he prayed the rosary continually in his
It was one of Padre Pios joys to officiate at the recitation
of the rosary and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament in the church.
During the last years of his life when he could no longer officiate,
he continued to attend faithfully, helped to the church by two brother
Capuchins who supported him under each arm.
JESUS AND MARY
Padre Pio is a man of our day. He died but a few years ago. Father
Pellegrino, who spent the last two-and-a-half hours of Padre Pios
life in his room with him, says that the prayer Jesus, Mary
was constantly on the lips of the dying stigmatist. These two words
summarize his life.
As we study Padre Pio it becomes evident that the distinctive feature
of his life was to recall to our modern world the redemptive value
of suffering freely accepted and joined to that of Christ. A corollary
lesson taught for our age by Padre Pios life is in the Fathers
redemptive plan. The significance of this lesson is underscored
by the fact that the American bishops, in November of 1973, and
the pope, in February of 1974, have seen the need to issue major
documents on Mary.
The vital link between Mary and Jesus can only be seen with the
eyes of faith. Only the poor in spirit and the humble of heart like
Padre Pio see it with any real clarity an act upon it with any consistency.
There was deep humility behind Padre Pios constant praying
of the rosary. He knew that the great gifts that men admired so
much in him were entirely from God and did not make him any better
than his fellow men. He was very conscious of the fact that as a
man he was a sinner like everyone and needed help at every step
of the way. The anointing that comes from the Holy One
(1 John 2:20. See also 27), the deep teaching that the Holy Spirit
alone can give, enlightened him, as it has all the saints, concerning
the great power of intercession which God has freely decreed to
confer on the mother of Jesus.
God teaches all of us through the lives of His faithful servants.
These lives are beacons set on a mountain for all to see, that all
may be guided by them. Many know Mary only with their minds. Padre
Pio knew her with his heart. There is no doubt either that he gained
this knowledge of the heart through the constant praying of the
rosary. There is no doubt either that if he could speak to us at
this very moment he would invite us to seek this same knowledge
of the heart through the same simple means so dear to him, the rosary.
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