While we’re on the topic of signs, the life of today’s saint, Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, was filled with them. His long life as a Capuchin friar (he died at 81) ended on this day in 1968, holding his Rosary (rarely ever out of his hands), declaring that he saw ‘two mothers’ (presumably his own, and the Virgin Mary), and, with the name ‘Maria’, breathed his last.
Francesco Forgione, born on May 25, 1887 to Grazia and Maria – providential names! – knew he wanted to be a Franciscan from five years of age. His own father, a peasant farmer, traveled to the United States to raise enough money for his son’s education, a sacrifice his son never forgot. He joined the Capuchins at the age of 16, taking the name Pio (Pius), by which he would ever after be known.
The life of the Friar was filled with controversy: His ill-health, requiring him to stay at home for long periods of time during his early formation while still a Franciscan; his ecstasies, levitations, and bilocations that defied any regular notion of space and time; the untold number of correspondents; the founding of the hospital near Pietrelcina, where he spent most of his priestly and Franciscan life, which required a controversial (to some) use of funds by the poverty-bound friar; the myriads of pilgrims and those seeking confession (including a young Father Karol Wojtyla, whose elevation to the papacy, according to one legend, Saint Pius revealed to him); the unending crowds of desperate people seeking spiritual and physical healing, or some glimpse of his gift of prophecy and his reading of souls, revealing forgotten or hidden sins to penitents he had never met; and, not least, the stigmata which stayed with the priest for fifty years, examined by numerous physicians, who could find no natural explanation for the wounds which would not heal, but gave off a heavenly fragrance (while at times causing Pius indescribable suffering), visible to everyone as he said his daily Mass at 5 a.m., throngs of pilgrims always present. (Ah, the days of early liturgies!) The good friar always seemed to live liminally between earth and heaven, and people said his only pastime, what little time he had outside of his pastoral duties, was prayer.