Today in 1919, Dr Amico Bignami conducted an investigation into the strange wounds that had appeared on the body of Francesco Forgione, a 27 year old Franciscan Friar. He was one of many doctors who would investigate the priest who became internationally famous as Padre Pio who would become one of the most popular saints in the Catholic Church.
Dr Bignami’s investigation, was during a period where the Vatican had imposed severe sanctions on Pio in an attempt to suppress his fame. They had forbidden him from saying Mass in public, hearing confessions, blessing people, answering letters, showing his stigmata publicly and communicating with his spiritual director (For more about the mystical gift of stigmata see the pods of Feb 24 or June 24). Church authorities attempted to relocate him to another convent in northern Italy and only desisted when local people threatened to riot. From 1924 to 1931, the Holy See made statements denying that the events in Pio's life were due to any divine cause. However, by 1933, the tide of official harassment began to turn with Pope Pius XI ordering a reversal of the ban on Padre Pio's public celebration of Mass, and the following year he was allowed again to hear confessions. The next Pope, Pius XII, even encouraged devotees to visit Padre Pio, and in 1947, the Polish priest, Father Karol Józef Wojtyła visited Padre Pio, who heard his confession. In 1962, Wojtyła, who had become a Bishop, wrote to Pio to ask him to pray for Wanda Poltawska, a friend in Poland who was suffering from cancer. Later, Poltawska's cancer was found to be in spontaneous remission and of Wojtyla who became Pope John Paul II would end up beatifiying and canonising Pio.
In the mid-1960s Pope Paul VI dismissed all accusations against Padre Pio, he had been accused of being a fraud and a trickster because of the supernatural claims made about him. He would die in 1968 at the age of 81 a couple of days after the 50th anniversary of receiving the stigmata, vindicated. As he was dying in his cell in San Giovanni Rotondo he said, "I see two mothers" (his mother and Mary) and with his last breath he whispered, "Maria!" His Requiem Mass was attended by over 100,000 people. The accounts of those who stayed with Padre Pio till the end state that the stigmata had completely disappeared without a scar. Only a red mark "as if drawn by a red pencil" remained on his side but it disappeared. He was declared a saint by Pope John Paul II in 2002.
Francesco Forgione had entered the Cappucin order at the age of 17, and taken the religious name Pius, as a sign that he was dedicating his life to God (see pod of Jan ) Born into a family of peasant farmers, he worked on the land up to the age of 10, looking after the small flock of sheep the family owned. As a youngster he was afflicted with a number of illnesses including severe gastroenteritis and typhoid fever. He also reported that he had experienced heavenly visions and ecstasies. He was ordained a priest in 1910, but his health being precarious, he was permitted to remain with his family until 1916 while still retaining the Capuchin habit. The Capuchin’s were a reform of the Franciscan order that were established in 1525 with the purpose of returning to a stricter observance of the rule established by Francis of Assisi in 1209. The classic look of an older Capuchin with his brown habit and white hair, lead to the espresso-based coffee drink that originated in Italy, the cappuccino to be named after them.
When World War I started, he was drafted and assigned to the 10th Medical Corps in Naples. Due to his health, he was discharged and recalled until he was declared unfit for service and discharged completely. In July 1918, Pope Benedict XV, who had termed the World War "the suicide of Europe," appealed to all Christians to pray for an end to the World War. Padre Pio offered himself as a victim for the end of the war. And had a vision in which Christ appeared and pierced his side. This rare mystical phenomenon is considered as a transverberation or "piercing of the heart", indicating the union of love with God within Christian mysticism. According to reports of his community this lead to a seven-week-long period of spiritual unrest for Padre Pio. One of his Capuchin brothers said this of his state during that period: During this time his entire appearance looked altered as if he had died. He was constantly weeping and sighing, saying that God had forsaken him However on the 20 September various accounts state that the pains of the transverberation had ceased and Pio was in "profound peace." On that day, as he was engaged in prayer in the choir loft in the Church of Our Lady of Grace, he received another celestial vision which led to religious ecstasy. When the ecstasy ended, Padre Pio claimed to have received the visible stigmata which stayed visible for the next fifty years of his life, only disappearing in the last few weeks of his life, leaving no trace on his skin.
People who had started rebuilding their lives after the war began to see in Padre Pio a symbol of hope as he manifested spiritual gifts of healing, bilocation, levitation, prophecy, He was sought out for his ability to read hearts, the gift of conversions, and pleasant-smelling wounds. The growing interest in him brought harsher sanctions and more intrusive investigations by the Vatican, but as these eased off in the 1930’s he started attracting more and more international pilgrims. In 1971, three years after his death, Pope Paul VI said to the superiors of the Capuchin Order about Pio: Look what fame he had, what a worldwide following gathered around him! But why? Perhaps because he was a philosopher? Because he was wise? Because he had resources at his disposal? Because he said Mass humbly, heard confessions from dawn to dusk and was–it is not easy to say it–one who bore the wounds of our Lord. He was a man of prayer and suffering
There were 300,000 people in Rome to hear him declared Saint Pio of Pietrelcina and was designated the the patron saint of stress relief and the “January blues,” after the most depressing day of the year, was identified as January 22. Now there are more than 3,000 "Padre Pio Prayer Groups" worldwide, with three million members. The first parish dedicated to him was established in 2002 in Canada, this has been followed by New Jersey, and Sydney, Australia, and the Philippines, A 2006 survey found that more Italian Catholics pray to Padre Pio for intercession than to any other figure