Sunday, July 29, 2007

Message, holiness of saint with stigmata more relevant now than ever, 'Padre Pio' author says

Miracles, bilocation, wounds that bled like Christ’s – none of these amazed the Capuchin Friars who dined, laughed and worked with the Capuchin saint internationally known as Padre Pio.

Canonized on June 16, 2002, Padre Pio impressed his brother monks not with mystical feats but with intensive prayer habits and a Christian example.

“You cannot imagine how deeply he prayed,” said Brother Joseph Martin.

“When he prayed, Padre Pio’s face looked like an angel’s,” said Brother Alessio Parente. “He would have conversations with God, just like you and I are doing right now.”

Padre Pio’s deep conversations with God were remarkable, said Kathleen Stauffer, publisher of Catholic Digest, based here, and author of the newly released book Padre Pio, An intimate portrait of a saint through the eyes of his friends. “All the men who knew Pio told me the same thing.”

“The stigmata was an incredible mystery, but the brothers who lived with St. Pio were almost fearful that people might obsess about that and overlook the real miracle of Pio’s legacy: an incredibly deep prayer life and a remarkably intimate relationship with God,” she said.

In the book’s introduction, Stauffer recounts a conversation with the late Brother Martin, who voiced fears that people would reduce Padre Pio’s legacy to finding lost items and intervening for miracles.

Brother Martin told Stauffer this would be tragic. He then revealed a secret about Pio.

Now, some 15 years later, Stauffer revisited a story initially told in Catholic Digest magazine.

With updated information and supplemental material never before published, she takes a closer look at the mystery of stigmata through the eyewitness accounts of the monks who knew Pio best. And, she wrestles with the dilemma of whether the secret revealed by Martin should at long last be told.

“There is real holiness in the world,” Stauffer writes in Padre Pio, “but I don’t think the world is a holier place now than it was 15 years ago.”

Stauffer believes we live in a world where people really do need to see signs of holiness – like those that surrounded Padre Pio daily.

“Now, more than at any time,” she said, “Padre Pio’s message seems relevant. His interaction with God was real. His relationship with God reveals the Divine reality: God wants a relationship with us. And our global community perhaps has never needed a relationship with God as much as we do now.”

The saint was born in 1887, named Francesco in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, to Giuseppa and Grazio Forgione in the small Italian village of Pietrelcina.

After becoming a Capuchin novice at the age of 16, he was ordained to the priesthood in 1910 and became known as Padre Pio.

On Sept. 20, 1918, Padre Pio was kneeling in front of a large crucifix when he received the visible marks of the crucifixion, making him the first stigmatized priest in the history of church.

The doctor who examined Padre Pio could not find any natural cause for the wounds.

Upon his death at 81 on Sept. 23, 1968, the wounds were no longer visible. In fact, there was no scaring and the skin was completely renewed.

He had predicted 50 years prior that upon his death, the wounds would heal.

The wounds of the stigmata were not the only mystical phenomenon experienced by Padre Pio.

The blood from the stigmata had an odor described by many as similar to that of perfume or flowers, and the gift of bilocation was attributed to him.

Padre Pio worked to use the confessional to bring penitents, whose confessions he heard for 10 or 12 hours per day, closer to God.

“The life and mission of Padre Pio prove that difficulties and sorrows, if accepted out of love, are transformed into a privileged way of holiness, which opens onto the horizons of a greater good, known only to the Lord,” Pope John Paul II said in his homily at the saint’s canonization five years ago.

The 72-page book, published by Twenty-Third Publications and Catholic Digest, offers a behind-the-scenes human exploration of holiness, bringing forth first-hand accounts rarely revealed while shedding light of the spiritual mysteries of stigmata.

Stauffer looks at, among other questions, what happens at the dramatic intersection of daily life and the divine, what does the wet blood of stigmata feel like upon one’s lips, whether science can explain stigmata, whether a saint can have a sense of humor, and what is a relic.

“I grew up in a rural part of southeastern Pennsylvania,” Stauffer said. “There were tensions between fundamentalist Protestants and Catholics, sometimes, with Catholics being called out to defend our saints, our sacraments, our symbols. All too often, we were unprepared.”

“It’s kind of ironic that the National Centre for Padre Pio is now located in that town, Barto, Pa. They are selling this book in the shrine’s gift shop, and some of the supplemental material for the book was added to encourage discussion of Padre Pio and our Catholic faith,” she added.

“Padre Pio tells a story of a holy man through the eyes of his friends,” she said. “It also examines the Catholic tradition of the Mass, a stigmatist’s intimate relationship with Eucharist, and how Catholic sacraments and sacramentals tie into Christian practice.”

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