Pio (Francesco Forgione) was born to Mamma Peppa and Grazio Forgione in the little town called Pietrelcina, in Southern Italy, during the month of flowers, May 25th 1887. He was fifth of eight children. His Mamma Peppa confided he was different from other boys: “he was never impolite or misbehaved”. He had celestial visions and diabolical oppressions from the age of five years and he saw and spoke with Jesus and Our Lady and with his Guardian Angel, but unfortunately this heavenly life was interwoven with hell and with the devil.
In 1903, Discipline and ill health had been woven together to crown the youth of Pio. Doctors diagnosed him as consumptive and were sure he would die. Strong in spirit Pio received the Capuchin Franciscan garb initialling religious life and therefore; Noviciate with its intense study, prayer, austerity, penance and finally vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience.
In 1909, we find him at Pietrelcina because of his illness, at his mother’s side. Now another intense chapter of extraordinary life opens with mystical afflictions an invisible stigmata and terrible battles with devils that wanted to destroy him began. Yet, “It all happened here”, he said, his whole future was prepared here. On August 10, 1910, he was ordained a Priest in the Cathedral of Benevento.
In 1916, we find him in the church of San Giovanni Rotondo, soon to become his Jerusalem, with the mystical and historical calvary of Gargano, where he was soon recognised as the “saintly friar” by the locals. Here he became a “victim of love”, by the reparation for sin, propitiator and regenerator of the many crowds who flocked to him, to venerate his bleeding wounds of his hands and feet. This very important event occurred in Father Pio’s life on September 20, 1918, while he was praying in front of a Crucifix located in the choir in the little old church, when a strange personage like an angel, gave him the stigmata. Those stigmata have been remained opened and bleeding for fifty years. This was one of the reasons for which doctors, scientists, journalists and common people have gone to San Giovanni Rotondo for years, in order to meet the “Saintly friar “.
In a letter dated October 22, 1918, Padre Pio told his experience of crucifixion: “... What I can tell you about my crucifixion? My God! What a confusion and what humiliation I feel when I try to show somebody else what you have done in me your scanty creature! It was the morning of the 20th. (September) and I was in choir, after the celebration of the Holy Mass, when a rest, similar to a sweet sleep surprised me. All the inside and external senses, as well as the same faculties of the soul were in an indescribable quiet. There was a depth silence around me and inside me; a peace overcame me and then it all happened in a flash I felt abandonment with the complete deprivation of everything. While all this was taking place, I saw before me a mysterious appearance, similar to the one I had seen on August 5th, differing only because His hands, feet and side were dripping blood. The sight of Him frightened me: what I felt at that moment is indescribable. I thought I would die, and would have died if the Lord hadn’t intervened and strengthened my heart, which was about to burst out of my chest! The appearance disappeared and I became aware that my hands, feet and side were pierced and were dripping with blood”. You can imagine the torment that I experienced then and that I am almost experiencing every day. The wound of the heart assiduously bleeds, particularly from the evening of Thursday until Saturday. My God, I die of pain, torment and confusion that I feel in the intimate of the soul. I am afraid I’ll bleed to death! I hope that God listens to my moans and withdrawals this operation from me... “
He usually woke up in the early morning (we could say at night) in order to get himself ready for the Holy Mass. In fact, every morning, at 4 a.m. there were always hundreds and sometimes even a thousand people waiting for the door of the church to open. After the Mass he used to spend most time of his day in prayer and confessions. After fifty years of stigmata he died September 23, 1968, thus he closed his mission of the Heart’s desire, with the real cross and the real crucifixion of his body.
Then, for years, from every part of the world, the believers went to this stigmatised priest, to get his powerful intercession from God. Fifty years lived in the prayer, in the humility, in the suffering and in the sacrifice, whether to effect his love, Padre Pio had two initiatives in two directions: the vertical one toward God, with the constitution of the “Groups of prayer”, the horizontal one toward his suffering community, with the construction of a modern hospital: “House Relief of the Suffering.”
In September 1968, thousands of devotees and Padre Pio’s spiritual children were assembled in conference at St. Giovanni Rotondo to commemorate together the 50 anniversary of the stigmata and to celebrate the fourth international conference of the Prayer Groups. Nobody would have imagined that at 2:30 a.m., September 23, 1968 we the earthly life of Father Pio of Pietrelcina would end.
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