Growing up as an Italian-American, I always knew about our culture’s special connection with Padre Pio, also known as Saint Pius of Pietrelcina. We always prayed to him, images of him were scattered around family members' houses, and I could feel his presence around us. Yet it was not until I grew older that I became interested in learning more about Padre Pio’s life and ministry, not just knowing him as someone to whom we prayed for his intercession.
In learning more about his story and road to sainthood, I was inspired by his perseverance through adversity. I began reflecting on his stigmata, the five wounds that were miraculously given to him by God as a way of sharing in the salvific suffering of Christ crucified, and the controversy that surrounded it as some even called him a fraud. Yet throughout these public outcries, he stood firm in his faith and allowed many investigations into his condition. It would have been so easy for him to shut the doors, draw the curtains, and live out the rest of his life behind closed doors. But not Padre Pio: he held Masses that lasted for hours, endured poking and prodding from medical professionals, and suffered immense pain and humiliation. In a letter, he writes about the suffering he faces and says:
“Will he (the Lord) at least free me from the embarrassment caused by these outward signs? I will raise my voice and will not stop imploring him until in his mercy he takes away, not the wound or the pain, which is impossible since I wish to be inebriated with pain, but these outward signs which cause me such embarrassment and unbearable humiliation."
Being put out of your comfort zone by someone else is something that I think most people would not enjoy—I know I certainly don’t—but for Padre Pio, he saw that it was God who was putting him out of his comfort zone in such an extreme way and allowing him to experience such immense pain for a greater purpose. St. Padre Pio was so incredible because he saw this suffering as coming from God and as a manifestation of God working through him to accomplish something great. I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been to be facing the realities of his stigmata and mystical experiences as well as dealing with the public’s reaction to the abilities he was given by the Lord. What a cross it would have been to bear! Yet Padre Pio continued on and was focused on helping bring about the healing of others—what a reminder to all of us to do the same.
In the summer of 2016, my family and I took a trip to Italy, which is where my mother grew up. We were extremely fortunate to be only about a two-hour drive from The Shrine of Padre Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo. This is both a shrine and the church where Padre Pio lived, served, and died. When we decided to visit the shrine, I was unsure of what to expect. On our long car ride through the Italian countryside, I looked out the window, wondering what the day would turn out to be, but it ended up being one of the cornerstones of my faith formation. It truly was an amazing experience. We got to go on a tour of the shrine, pray in the same space that Padre Pio once did, and visit his tomb. It was such an immersive way of experiencing who Padre Pio was as a person, the steps he took every day, and a glimpse into his reality. The few hours that we were there felt like just mere minutes, and I found myself trying to soak in every last second that I could in the sacred space.
From the gift shop, I got a small bracelet with a Tau cross in between a row of small colorful beads to commemorate that day. Out of all the wonderful souvenirs I got from my month in Italy, this simple bracelet may have been my favorite. I wore the bracelet every day throughout my freshman year of college, which began in the fall of 2016, and found myself using it as a prayer object during times of uncertainty. It helped me not only feel connected to Padre Pio and his intercession but also to feel connected to my culture and my family back home, as my freshman year was filled with feeling homesick.
While I no longer wear the bracelet (it got misplaced somewhere in moving out of my dorm), I still feel connected to and interested in Padre Pio and his life and dedication to helping others. I am so grateful for his presence to me, to my family, and to my culture.