Padre Pio, a synthesis of prayer and charity of a holy life 

June 16, 2022 marks the twentieth anniversary of the canonization of the Capuchin of San Giovanni Rotondo.

Antonino Piccione-June 16, 2022-Reading time: 4 minutes

Photo: the Pope praying before the body of Padre Pio. © CNS photo/courtesy Shrine of St. Pio of Pietrelcina

"My yoke is sweet and my burden is light" (Mt 11:30).

This is the core of the homily that Pope John Paul II delivered on June 16, 2002, during the solemn rite of canonization of Blessed Pio of Pietrelcina (born Francesco Forgione in 1887 and died in 1968), a priest of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin. "The Gospel image of the 'yoke,'" said the Holy Father, "evokes the many trials that the humble Capuchin of San Giovanni Rotondo had to face. Today we contemplate in him how sweet is the 'yoke' of Christ and how light is its burden when it is carried with faithful love. Padre Pio's life and mission bear witness to the fact that difficulties and sorrows, if accepted out of love, are transformed into a privileged path of holiness, opening up prospects of a greater good, known only to the Lord".

An intense inner life

In order to recall some biographical notes, and taking advantage of the precious reconstruction offered by the web pages of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, it must be said that after his priestly ordination, received on August 10, 1910 in Benevento, Pio remained with his family until 1916 for health reasons. In September of the same year, he was sent to the convent of San Giovanni Rotondo and remained there until his death.

He lived his vocation to contribute fully to the redemption of mankind, according to the special mission that characterized his whole life and which he put into practice through the spiritual direction of the faithful, the sacramental reconciliation of penitents and the celebration of the Eucharist. The high point of his apostolic activity was the celebration of Holy Mass. The faithful who attended perceived the summit and fullness of his spirituality. 

Charity, the first virtue

In the area of social charity, he was committed to alleviating the pain and misery of so many families, mainly through the foundation of the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza (House for the Relief of Suffering), inaugurated on May 5, 1956. The love of God filled him, fulfilling all his expectations; charity was the guiding principle of his journey: God to be loved and to love. His particular concern: to grow and to make others grow in charity. 

He expressed the maximum of his charity towards his neighbor by welcoming, for more than 50 years, many people who came to his ministry and to his confessional to receive his advice and consolation. It was almost a siege: they sought him in the church, in the sacristy, in the convent. And he gave himself to everyone, reviving faith, distributing grace, bringing light. But especially in the poor, the suffering and the sick he saw the image of Christ and gave himself especially for them.

The cross in your life

He soon realized that his path would be that of the Cross, and he accepted it immediately with courage and out of love. He experienced the sufferings of the soul for many years. For years he bore the pains of his wounds with admirable serenity. When he had to submit to investigations and restrictions in his priestly service, he accepted everything with deep humility and resignation. In the face of unjustified accusations and calumnies, he always kept silent, trusting in the judgment of God, of his direct superiors and of his own conscience. 

He sincerely considered himself useless, unworthy of God's gifts, full of misery and, at the same time, full of divine favor. In the midst of the admiration of the world, he repeated: "I only want to be a poor friar who prays". His health, from his youth, was not very flourishing and, especially in the last years of his life, declined rapidly. He died at the age of 81. His funeral was marked by an extraordinary turnout.

Fame of sanctity

In the years that followed his death, his fame of holiness and miracles grew more and more, becoming an ecclesiastical phenomenon, spread throughout the world, among all categories of people. It was not long before the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin took the steps required by canon law to initiate the Cause of beatification and canonization. 

On December 18, 1997, in the presence of John Paul II, the Decree on the Heroicity of Virtues was promulgated. May 2, 1999His Holiness John Paul II beatified the Venerable Servant of God Pio of Pietrelcina, setting September 23 as the date of the liturgical feast. The decree of canonization was promulgated on February 26, 2002.

A very special disciple

A life, that of Padre Pio, at the service of and in communion with other lives. Among them, we like to recall the life of Don Salvatore Pannullo, with the recent publication of Zi Tore. The 'parish priest' of Padre Pio (author Raffaele Iaria, Tau Publishing House). A priest who made history at Pietrelcina, seeing among the first the sanctity of a young man who would become the first stigmatized priest in history and one of the most followed priests in the world.

Don Pannullo, in fact, was pastor of this center from 1901 to 1928. He is a rather forgotten figure in the biographies of Padre Pio and yet important for having been at his side as he matured in his religious vocation. He was in a sense his advisor and guide, teacher and friend. He was a priest who followed the young Forgione in the last months of his preparation for the priesthood, offering him instructions on the liturgy, accompanying him in the final examination and on the day of ordination. And he was also the first to learn the story of the friar's so-called invisible stigmata, a month after the ordination itself. 

What, in short, is the most distinctive feature of Padre Pio's biography and work? Where is the origin and strength of his apostolate? The answer, once again, in the words pronounced by John Paul II in the parvis The deep root of so much spiritual fruitfulness is to be found in that intimate and constant union with God, to which the long hours spent in prayer and in the confessional were eloquent testimony. He liked to repeat: 'I am a poor friar who prays', convinced that 'prayer is the best weapon we have, a key that opens the Heart of God'".

A distinctive feature of his spirituality that continues in the Prayer Groups he founded, which offer to the Church and to society "the formidable contribution of unceasing and trusting prayer". Padre Pio's prayer was accompanied by an intense charitable activity, of which the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza is an extraordinary expression. Prayer and charity, this is a very concrete synthesis of Padre Pio's teaching".

The authorAntonino Piccione

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