Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Twelve "Apostles" of Padre Pio

Unlike those of Jesus, Padre Pio's were all women.

Nina Campanile was one of the first of Padre Pio's spiritual daughters, not just in the order of time, but also in the height of her spirituality. Nina was a primary school teacher in San Giovanni Rotondo. She first met the Padre on October 5, 1916, only one month after he was assigned to the friary of Our Lady of Graces at San Giovanni. Although he had just arrived, and the stigmata were not to appear for another two years, his reputation for holiness was already spreading in the Puglia region of southern Italy.

World War One was raging, and Nina's younger brother had recently died at the front. Their mother was worried about his eternal fate, so she asked Nina to visit the “holy monk” to ask if he was saved. She did so, and the reply of the Padre was: “If the mercy of God depended on what you think, all men would be in hell. He is saved, yes, and in need of prayers.” In her diary, she wrote that her first impression of him was that he was entirely a supernatural being, “with a halo around his head,” because at that time she did not understand that before saints can be illuminated by the light of paradise, they first had to be truly human.

Once she had met him, she found it difficult to be away from his presence, and that initial meeting proved to be the beginning of many others, either in person or by letter, through which Padre Pio provided for her spiritual direction. He told her that he understood from their first encounter, that the Lord had sent her to him, and that much work would be required to form her soul in God. About that visit, Nina wrote: “He penetrated to the depths my soul, without my having spoken, such that I felt ashamed to be in his presence, and I did not dare to raise my eyes to look up at him, so much was the confusion that I felt.” 

Nina Campanile

Twice a week, Thursday and Sunday, and often on other days, Nina came to see Padre Pio along with some of her teacher colleagues and other spiritual daughters. Conferences took place in the guest parlor in an informal, friendly atmosphere, where he taught the way of perfection, and spoke about the gospel. They would ask him about things they did not understand, and with paternal gentleness, he would resolve their difficulties and doubts, enlightening their minds.

He told Nina that it was his intention to form a few, good souls, so that they in turn would be the seeds sown in the bosom of the of the people. Whenever he talked to them one-on-one in private, he would not only be interested in their spiritual growth, but also showed an interest in their families, as if he were himself a family member wanting to know what was happening to his loved ones. If one of them were sick, he would inform them of any steps to be taken. “In this way this exquisite conquistador of souls captivated our faith, such that we manifested to him the most intimate fibers of our consciences; he sifted and directed our sentiments and our spirits, steering them towards the supreme ideal.”

Nina writes that there were twelve women who attended Padre Pio's conferences. In her memoirs she lists them as Rachelina Russo, the Ventrella sisters, Giovanna and Lucia Fiorentino, Lucia Campanile [Nina's sister], Maria and Antonietta Pompilio, Maria Ricciardi, Filomena Fini, and Maddalena Cascavilia. Padre Pio said that “Here it is not a question of personal acceptance. Souls are attracted as the Lord disposes.”

From the very first meetings, he taught that their spiritual progress hinged upon five basics. These were: weekly confession; daily Communion; spiritual reading; meditation; and nightly examination of conscience. At whatever the cost, he did not want them to neglect daily Communion, unless they had committed a mortal sin. In order to allay any doubts, he listened to all of their frequent fears and scruples about approaching the altar. He told them that they should abstain from Holy Communion only if they knew for certain they had sinned mortally. In this way he triumphed over their fears. Following the example of his twelve spiritual daughters, in a very short time the practice of daily Communion diffused itself throughout San Giovanni Rotondo. 

Maria Pompilio receiving Holy Communion from Padre Pio

But the teaching of Padre Pio was not simply catechetical, he used various means to make them understand and penetrate the truth. In her initial years under the Padre's tutelage, he treated Nina in an exceptional way in comparison to the others – he treated her as if she were a little child. He often gave her very pretty holy cards and sacred objects, and gave her all the candy and sweets that his devotees had personally given to him. In her spiritual blindness, Nina thought that these gifts were a sign of her special predilection in the eyes of God and of the Padre. However, as time went on, she began to think about the poverty of Saint Francis of Assisi, and here she was eating sweets. She mentioned this to Padre Pio, who immediately responded, “That is why I don't eat them, and give them to you instead.” She replied, “Am I not also a daughter of St. Francis, so then why do you give them to me?” He answered in jest, “You are not the daughter of St. Francis [San Francesco], but of your dad, Don Francesco.” And they both laughed. But the wisdom of this little joke reached into her heart. And she considered it often, especially when the daughter of Don Francesco, who wished to be the daughter of St. Francis, had a great desire for sweets and candy.

God was in him in a supernatural manner the way that natural things are in us, and Nina cited many facts which demonstrated it. During the first year under her direction by the Padre, her mother was stricken with a very high fever. The doctors diagnosed double pneumonia, and the family was very concerned. When Padre Pio met with Nina, he asked how her mother was doing. She told him that the doctors were prescribing certain treatments for the pneumonia, including eight leeches [bloodsuckers – sanguisughe]. Padre Pio exclaimed that her illness was actually a severe case of malaria. A short time later, the diagnosis that Padre Pio had discerned supernaturally, was confirmed.

In February 1918 her sister had a terrible fall from a great height; she was in severe pain and lost consciousness. A doctor was urgently summoned, and he diagnosed that she had suffered serious internal bruises and her kidneys had become displaced – she would die before the night was over. Nina ran over to the friary through sleet and snow, to find Padre Pio, and he reassured her that “This is just God accosting her, she will soon be healed.” But that evening her sister was still lying unconscious on her bed. Nina called out to her loudly, shook her, even pinched her, but there was no response. All of a sudden the face of Nina's friend, who was also present, began to pale, as she announced, “The Padre is here.” It was bilocation.

Nina was stupefied, never having experienced anything like it before. “But the Padre is here?” she asked. “Yes, he is here in spirit.” “How is he dressed?” “Like a monk.” “If I reach out to touch him, can I feel anything? “No, because it is his spirit. See? He has come near your sister and said 'poor girl.' ” After about ten minutes her friend said, “Now, he has gone away.” Nina wanted to verify the reality of this event, and carefully noted that the time was 8:00 pm. She approached her sister's bedside, and once again called out to her. To Nina's surprise, she responded with a profound sigh, and said she was feeling much better. The next day Nina went to the friary, and when she saw the Padre she asked him point blank, “Padre, what time did you come to the house last night to see my sister?” “Around eight o'clock,” he replied. The proof was evident, and her sister was cured.

Nina's nephew was a medic serving on a hospital ship, and one day she heard that the ship was bombed. Fearful, she immediately approached the Padre and asked him about her nephew. He replied without hesitation, “Be calm, he was in port and not on the ship.” Later, she learned that this was in fact the case. Padre Pio could not have learned that her brother was safe by normal means, since she had asked him as soon as news came of the bombing.

Nina wrote that the stormy times in which we live have need of a “divinized being” on earth to give an example, comfort, sustain, and above all to support us through the raging and furious storms, to insure that if the body is lost, the soul will not be. The life of Padre Pio, like that of the Divine Master, is one of total sacrifice. He eats little, and sleeps even less. He prays, works, suffers. Forgetting himself, his life is dedicated to the cause of souls; he is open to everyone. He said, “If you do good to those who deserve it, what merit is there? It is necessary to know how to treat with the bad and with the good, in order to draw out the best in the one and in the other.”

Based primarily on Enrico Malatesta's La Vera Storia di Padre Pio, pp. 136-143. Additional information from Letters of Padre Pio, Vol III, pp. 949-950.

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Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Anatomy of a Conversion

Worldly, cosmopolitan, elegant, she had no time for the things of God . . . until she met Padre Pio.

Luisa Vairo was born into a wealthy family, which zealously strove to cater to her every whim. She grew up to be highly cultivated and intelligent, but could find neither in the books that she read nor in the luxuries of life, any enjoyments that really gave her true satisfaction. She was an independent person, who shone in high social circles, yet her refined, elegant tastes were never totally fulfilled. Consequently, she was always looking for something new, unexpected, and different. Although beautiful, clever and rich, all the pleasures and sensations that she sought after left her with more disgust than joy. Unfortunately, her materialistic life made Luisa insensible and even prejudiced against any thought of a hereafter, and she scoffed at anyone who spoke to her of God. In fact, she was vehemently anti-clerical.

One day in the mid 1920's, one of her circle of friends, a gentleman whom she knew very well, departed from London, where Luisa was then living, and headed for Rome on a pleasure trip. While in the Eternal City, this man heard about a monk named Padre Pio, and impelled by a desire to meet him, he traveled to San Giovanni Rotondo. When he returned to London after encountering the saint, he was like a new person, almost opposite to what he was before. When his group of friends began talking in a bawdy way, he expressed his disapproval, manifesting that he no longer thought of such things the way he used to.

Vairo and her companions, knowing that he had been to Rome, began to mock him: “Now that you have been to Rome, you want to be a monk!” But he replied calmly and firmly, “I have not become a monk, but I have completely changed, and the person who caused this change is in fact a monk.” They would not let him continue speaking, drowning him out with their mockeries and laughter. But he remained calm, and their shouting failed to disturb him. Finally they desisted, and asked him to tell his story. He answered: “I myself will tell you nothing, you go and see for yourselves.”

But later on he told Luisa about San Giovanni and Padre Pio, and this aroused in her an ardent curiosity and a desire to visit this Padre. Ever the lover of something new and unexpected, she soon undertook the journey to visit the modest hermitage where Padre Pio lived. Upon her arrival, she was immediately disgusted by the town, which was then very primitive, quite unlike what it was eventually to become. Used to cosmopolitan society, fancy palazzi and luxurious hotels, she made up her mind to return home immediately after encountering Padre Pio.

However, as she clambered up the rugged, and at that time unpaved, trail that led towards the convent, she started to think about and experience strange new sentiments and feelings that she had never before known. Perhaps it was the tiny birds flying among the branches of the budding almond trees, or the murmur of distant waters, or the bright azure sky of “Bella Italia,” or the song of a shepherd with his sheep. The sad reality of her life appeared before her mind, as she thought of the life that she had lived without accomplishing anything. She felt a sense almost of rebellion against herself for having hearkened to the world of appearances instead of listening to her own heart. Reaching the top of the Patariello, the hillock upon which stood the bare, plain monastery and chapel of Our Lady of Graces, a wave of melancholy and then one of infinite sweetness arose within her. She was overwhelmed by the combination of all these new sensations along with the thought of actually encountering the Padre who had changed her friend's life – the anticipation of coming before the stigmatic who was said to see and know everything about one's soul!

Padre Pio Recounted her Sins to her

Coming before the threshold of the little church, she found herself trembling and fearful, yet hopeful. But as she entered she could not hold back her loud sobs and tears, which fell in torrents from the depths of her soul, overflowing from the sorrowful pains she felt within herself. She would later state: “I can only say that in that church I felt the ice in my heart melting.” Some women who were nearby in the sacristy heard her bitter sobs, and hurried towards her, followed by Padre Pio himself. As soon as he saw Luisa, and before she could say a word he said to her: “Be calm, Signora, be calm! The mercy of God is infinite, and Jesus died on the cross for sinners.” She noticed at once an exceptional brightness about him, and she began to feel more tranquil. The other women did not know the hidden reasons for her tears, but they knew enough to let her alone with the Padre.

She asked him to hear her confession, but told him that she would not know what to say or to do. He replied that this was not the time for it. She should remain calm and come back at three o'clock, when he would confess her. If she did not know what to say, he would say it for her. She went into the church and tried to make an examination of conscience, but in fact she did not recall how to, since she had been away from the sacraments for so many years. And besides, she could not remember all of the many sins she had committed.

She returned at the appointed time that afternoon for her confession a little calmer, but she was still rent with tears and sobs, which made her unable to even speak to him. However, Padre Pio himself began by describing all the varied and diverse periods of her life, her adventures and vicissitudes, and pointed out the grave errors she had committed, and how they had kept her far away from God. When he finished enumerating her sins, he asked Luisa if she could recall anything else that should be confessed. In her heart she felt two distinct impulses. One said that she should confess a certain other sin, even though Padre Pio had not mentioned it, otherwise the entire confession would be invalid. But another voice within her said that it is not necessary to tell it, since Padre Pio would have listed it with the others if it were important. Fortunately, Luisa followed the good impulse, and confessed to him the sin that had been omitted. Padre Pio replied, “Finally . . . this is what I was waiting for.” And he gave her absolution. 

She left the chapel filled with happiness, experiencing for the first time the joy and the peace that she had vainly tried to capture through her worldly pursuits. She later said that if she had been keeping a daily journal all of her life, the description of her sins would not have been as exact as Padre Pio's account of them, since he had not overlooked even the smallest fault. 

Now desirous of completely renewing her life, she remained at San Giovanni Rotondo, daily making the trek to the convent along with other devotees of the Padre, and the visiting pilgrims. She took up residence in the home of the Fiorentino sisters, who were among his very first spiritual daughters. They instructed her in the steps of the spiritual life, and she spent the greater part of her days at the church. She commenced to undertake penitences, privations, and mortifications not only for herself, but also for the conversion of her son, who was assigned to a ship in the Navy.

This Water Does Not Wet

The fancy and elegant shoes from Paris and Rome that she once wore had become an odious memory.  One day, when the weather was so bad it kept many away from going to the church, she made up her mind to walk there on her bare feet, as an act of mortification.  The wind was howling, and the sleet penetrating her clothing felt like piercing thorns, but none of this deterred her. Exhausted, frozen, soaked to her bones, she reached the convent hardly able to stand on her feet. They had become swollen and bloody from plodding up the stony, rugged trail.

As she crossed the threshold of the Church, she fell in a faint, and was taken into the sacristy. The icy water dripped down from her garments, beginning to melt once she was indoors. As soon as he saw her, Padre Pio told her that she was too rash in doing such penance. “Our body is like a donkey that must be disciplined, but not too severely, otherwise it will collapse and be unable to carry us.” Then he placed his hand on her shoulder, saying: “This water does not wet.” And immediately her clothes were completely dry!

But nothing could deter Luisa from her penances, especially because of her son. Each time she spoke of him to the Padre, he would tell her to keep praying, because someday he too would see the light. She often wrote to her son about her conversion, but he did not believe it was genuine. Simply in order to please her he promised to come to San Giovanni Rotondo some day. But Luisa felt no peace in thinking that her worldly life had given him a bad example. Then after many months of penance at St. Mary of the Graces, a visitor brought with him some newspapers from England. Leafing through them in the square in front of the church, she let out a scream that was heard by everyone inside. She had read that his ship had sunk at sea, and over a dozen men had perished – but their names were not given.

Many rushed out from the church in order to calm her. When Padre Pio arrived, she told him that she feared her son was dead. He asked her “Who told you he has died to cause you such desperation?” She replied, “Can you assure me he is alive?” Padre Pio looked at Luisa, who was crying buckets, and then he raised his eyes heavenward. After a few moments he said: “Thank the Lord, your son is alive!” Padre Pio told her where he was staying, even stating the exact address. All the onlookers marveled. 

Luisa Vairo wrote a letter to her son, explaining how Padre Pio had given her the address, and begging him to come and give thanks for his escape from danger. Finally convinced, he obtained leave to come to San Giovanni for a day. His mother urged him to go to confession, and to fast in order to receive Communion. He promised her he would fast, but on the way to the church he stopped for a little snack of some eggs and grapes. Arriving at the sacristy where his mother awaited him, he was introduced to Padre Pio. The saint looked at him and said with a knowing smile: “What a rogue, what a liar!” The man was insulted, and asked Padre Pio, who had never met him before, why he was saying these things to him. He replied, “Are you going to insist to your mother that you have been fasting? What about those two eggs and those grapes that you have eaten?” Luisa's son became greatly disturbed, and then went down on his knees before the Padre, entreating him: “Padre, pardon me. I believe!”

This article is based on accounts in Alberto Del Fante's Per La Storia, pp. 279-288, and on Padre Pio Storia D'una Vittima, by Francobaldo Chiocci and Luciano Cirri, pp. 630-632.

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Monday, October 29, 2018

A Desperate Illness Cured by Padre Pio

An insatiable thirst caused her to drink countless gallons of water day and night.

For seven long years, beginning when she was only a teenager in 1945, Lucia Bellodi suffered from a severe case of diabetes insipidus, complicated by an earlier attack of encephalitis. She was a farm girl from Modena, in northern Italy, and had been admitted over the years to several hospitals and a sanatorium. The doctors did all they could with the knowledge then available, but instead of improving she only worsened. Suffering from a pituitary imbalance, she was declared incurable, and was ultimately admitted to a nursing home in Modena. At the nursing facility, a “home for the aged,” the sisters did all they could to provide her relief from her most unusual illness, characterized by an insatiable thirst. Her body was unable to maintain adequate control over its water content, and as a result she had to constantly consume large amounts of water to offset her frequent urination. We are talking about drinking gallons and gallons of water per day, causing her abdomen to swell out of proportion. Incredible as it may seem, one source mentions 105 quarts of water, and by her own testimony, it had increased in the days before her cure to over 170 quarts in 24 hours.

She was enabled to sustain this affliction by drinking constantly through a rubber hose attached to a large container holding many gallons of water. Even at night when sleeping, she had to suck water out of the hose. If she did not keep drinking, her tongue would swell and her mouth would start to bleed. The nursing sisters looked after her continually, and due to urination complications, they were forced to change her bed linens many times a day. In addition, there was another extremely serious concern – about every two weeks there would be a crisis consisting of extremely painful headaches and high fevers, to the point of delirium.

Lucia held Padre Pio in great esteem, after learning about him from her hospital caregivers and the nursing sisters. Although she prayed to him often, it was not for the grace of a cure. Instead she asked him to intercede with the Lord so that she would be able to resign herself to accepting her malady, or to be freed from it by her death.

The day of Corpus Christi in 1952, she manifested to the sisters that she had a desire to attend Mass for the feast day. They agreed to this, but when she returned from making her confession, she was unable to stand. She was rushed to her bed, since this appeared to be the onset of one of her crises. The fever and headache lasted all that morning until the early afternoon, as she drank more and more water. At a certain point during that morning, she saw a friar, who looked at her fixedly with dark eyes, as if reproving her, but he said nothing. During her delirium, the nursing sister heard her say “Padre Pio, I can go on no longer; please come to take me!” Seeing how much Lucia was suffering, this sister too prayed that God would liberate her from such a pitiful existence.

At about two in the afternoon, at the culmination of the crisis, her caregivers thought that this was the end for her, as they felt her body getting cold. Lucia could smell all around her the sweet fragrance of the perfume of violets. As she wondered at this, she fell asleep. While she was sleeping, she heard these words: “Arise Lucia, since you are cured. This evening or tomorrow come to see me at San Giovanni Rotondo.” As she slept, her mouth was firmly shut and the sisters could not insert the rubber hose so that she could continue to drink water. They were fearful that her tongue would swell and she would hemorrhage. Thus after an hour and a half of letting her rest, the sisters had to slap her into wakefulness. She awoke suddenly and got up from her bed, announcing to all that she was cured. At first they thought she was talking crazy, but after she explained what Padre Pio had said, they told her she should go into the chapel to thank the Lord.

She proceeded up the stairs on her own, feeling confident and secure, and even took part in the Corpus Christi procession. She felt completely well, as if she had never suffered at all for the past seven years. The doctors were summoned, and they could only conclude that a miracle had occurred. She expressed her wish to travel to Padre Pio's monastery in San Giovanni Rotondo, but they felt that she was not yet ready to sustain such a long trip, from the north of Italy to the south, and she was constrained to remain at the nursing home in Modena for three more days.

When she arrived at San Giovanni accompanied by two of the sisters, she was extremely happy to be able to see and to speak to Padre Pio, whom she thanked profusely. He smiled and said, “I was waiting for you,” and he told her that it was the Lord who deserved the thanks. Upon her return to Modena, she moved in with her parents, and went to work on their farm. The doctors subjected her to a final battery of tests, which indicated that she was completely healthy. But they told her that because of her severe case of diabetes insipidus, she would never be able to have children of her own. However, confiding in Padre Pio, she chose to marry in 1961, and was blessed with a child.

This article is based on Lucia Bellodi's personal testimony, published in Padre Pio Storia D'una Vittima, by F. Chiocci and L. Cirri, pp. 670-672. Some additional information was provided by Rev. Bernard Ruffin in Padre Pio the True Story, pp. 336-337; and Rev. Charles Mortimer Carty, Padre Pio the Stigmatist, pp. 171-172. Where some of the details given in the latter two sources differ from the Chiocci-Cirri version, I have relied on Chiocci-Cirri since that source presented her own words. 

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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Padre Pio converts a “mangiapreti” - a priest-hater

After Padre Pio received the stigmata on September 20, 1918 at San Giovanni Rotondo, some who lived in that area remained incredulous, and became his “enemies.” One such man by the name of Michele lived in Torremaggiore, a small municipality about 25 miles to the west of San Giovanni. A clamorous incident occurred around the year 1919 involving Michele and Padre Pio, which was reported at the time in newspapers from eyewitness accounts.

Michele was a confirmed atheist and socialist. He was known as a “mangiapreti,” (literally – a priest-eater), who harbored bitter resentment and hatred towards Catholic priests. An inveterate blasphemer, he considered Padre Pio to be a notorious deceiver.

He was proprietor of a furnace operation for the baking of terracotta clay used in ceramics and pottery. At that time the kiln was fired with bean and barley straw. Near the oven, Michele had two interconnecting rooms where he kept the supply of straw piled up. However, for six straight days a strong gale was blowing throughout the area, such that it prevented him from igniting his oven. Unable to work, he began to blaspheme to no end. Further, since every day a stream of pilgrims and visitors would pass by his workshop on their way to Padre Pio's friary at San Giovanni Rotondo, he cursed him in particular.
One evening, on June 24th, the feast of St. John the Baptist, Michele prayed, “Dear Padre Pio, I will believe in you if you can put an end to this windstorm that keeps me from lighting my oven and from working.” At that moment, a man entered the courtyard of the place, dressed in the garb of a humble sharecropper. He greeted Michele, and asked him if he had an ember with which he could light his pipe. At that, the artisan went into a rage. He railed that he has been cursing and swearing for six days because has not been able to fire his furnace.

The visitor replied that he would light the kiln himself. Michele became even more furious because he thought the man was mocking him. Taking hold of a pitchfork he came towards the stranger. He shouted to him, “Are you poking fun at me? Are you like that (x&@#!) Padre Pio that makes miracles for the simpletons?” But the visitor remained calm and serene, while replying “I am Padre Pio.”

Immediately, a a large and fearful tongue of fire several meters in length issued forth from the oven. A terrified Michele fell to the ground in a faint. Then he heard a voice calling him: “Don't be afraid. Learn to trust in the Lord and stop blaspheming Him!” As he came to, he saw a friar smiling down at him. He recognized Padre Pio, who took him in his arms to carry him away from the burning fire. Then the saint departed, disappearing through a wall around the property.

In the meantime, the fire which had so mysteriously started in the oven continued to rage. The flames, leaping high and wide, reached the two rooms adjacent to the furnace, where the piles of straw were stored – but incredibly the straw was not consumed. Soon, many people ran up, some coming from afar, after seeing the night sky illuminated by the blazing inferno. Michele's friends and neighbors tried to extinguish the flames, but without success. The remarkable fire continued to burn throughout the night, until about eleven in the morning.

Inside the furnace there were many terracotta vases and pots that had been readied to be baked. The usual baking time was about an hour at most, but the fire in that kiln had been going for about a dozen hours straight. Michele was certain that everything in the oven had been destroyed or pulverized. Instead, when he checked it, he saw that all the ceramics were done to perfection, none were burned or cracked, and there was no waste to throw away as usually happened. The people were amazed at this, and cried out that it was a miracle. The crowd extolled Padre Pio, since Michele told them that the monk had saved him from the flames. The straw from the storage rooms that the fire had mysteriously left unharmed, was gathered by them and taken home in bunches as souvenirs and relics. Similarly, they took away all the vases and pots that had been flawlessly baked by the miraculous fire. 

Michele was so upset by the entire occurrence that when he returned home, he had to be confined to bed with a very high fever. After he got better, he journeyed to San Giovanni Rotondo to thank Padre Pio. He had now became a fervent defender of the Padre, and finally ceased his blasphemies. 

Based on a selection from Renzo Allegri's Padre Pio Il Santo dei Miracoli, pp. 102-104. 

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Thursday, October 4, 2018

Under the Protection of Padre Pio.

A vein in her brain had burst in four places, her eye was severely damaged, she was comatose, went through a near death experience, and then recovered completely without any consequences as Padre Pio had promised.

Teresa Sorrentino lives in a small town nestled in the hills of southern Italy called Cava de' Tirreni, holds three degrees, and is a university teacher. She grew up in a family that was serious about their Catholic faith and of their devotion to St. Francis of Assisi. She is married with two children. In 1972 when she was about 12 years old, she went on a pilgrimage to San Giovanni Rotondo, and developed a great admiration for Padre Pio. Gazing at photos of him, she was struck by the gentle and paternal expression on the face the humble friar. Although she knew little about him at the time, Teresa felt she could understand and empathize with him. From then on, she has always considered him to be her protector. When she learned that he was born on May 25, which was her birthday too, she took this as a special sign that united the two of them.

On a Friday in May of 1998, she was particularly happy, even euphoric. She had learned that she was pregnant with her third child. That morning she began to smell a very sweet perfume. Wondering where it could be coming from, she went from room to room and could sense it wherever she went; but her husband and her mother said they did not notice it. She could even smell it when she was in the car with her husband. The aroma persisted until 2 AM. Teresa did not know at the time that the phenomenon of the perfume often indicated the presence of Padre Pio.

Two days later, she experienced the first signs of a possible spontaneous abortion. She called her doctor, who ordered her to come in for some tests. She was worried, and her thoughts turned to Padre Pio. Another day passed. Then while on the phone with her doctor, she began to feel weak. Her last words to him before she collapsed unconscious onto the floor were “I feel ill.” She fell in a dead weight, slamming her head against the telephone receiver – it penetrated her right eye causing a large hematoma and a seriously damaged eyeball.

Teresa was rushed to a nearby hospital, where the gravity of the situation was ascertained – a vein in her brain had burst. But that hospital was not equipped to handle such a case, and she had to be transported to a different one. By the time she arrived there, she was close to death. They did everything possible to save her. She underwent a cerebral drainage, which only aggravated her condition. She lay in a coma in the intensive care ward, hooked up to IV's, tubes and wires, under the care of the best specialists available. The CT scan revealed an aneurysm, caused by a blood clot from the spontaneous abortion.

Between the aneurysm and the head trauma from her fall, her brain was filling with blood. Her condition was desperate. The coma was considered irreversible, and there was no hope. Even if she did awaken she would be paralyzed, blind in one eye, with disturbances in her speech and thinking; in other words a vegetable.

Yet, while her body was incapacitated, her mind and spirit took flight. She went through that extraordinary experience which many in a coma or near death have reported – a visit to heaven. She felt that she had broken free from her body and had abandoned it. She found herself in that famous dark tunnel, but the darkness was so thick that she became fearful as she traveled through it. Then, at the end of it she found herself immersed in a vibrant, bright light. It was impossible for her to describe the joy and happiness that filled her soul. She comprehended that in that light there were beings, persons, but she could not see anyone. Then, suddenly, she is not sure how, but she recognized her father. She saw him as a very beautiful figure of light, and was able to precisely communicate with him, but not with words. 

Her dad had died from throat cancer thirteen years previously. An operation had resulted in a hole in his throat, but here, on the other side, he looked perfect. She asked him why there was no opening in his throat, and he replied that where he is now, there are no physical anomalies of any sort. Then Teresa noticed that near him was another person, a young boy that she knew, who had died at age 18, and was the son of her friend. She marveled at the fact that she was seeing him there; her father said that the boy wanted to give her an urgent and important message to bring back to his family. The boy spoke to her about many things that were later verified.

He told her personal and private details, and explained to her where a certain letter was kept in his house. He described the exact piece of antique furniture and the drawer in which was to be found a maroon colored notebook, within whose pages lay the letter. Upon her return and recovery, Teresa verified that everything he had told her was true. She believes that the encounter with him, since he was not part of her usual circle of friends, had purposely occurred so that she could believe her experience was real. If her father was accompanied by a dead relative, she might have thought that her journey to the afterlife had not actually happened – that it may have been a fantasy or a dream.

Since she considered that the encounter with the boy was real, she also believed that what her father said about her illness was true. He told her that during her horrible misfortune she was protected by Padre Pio. He explained that the perfume she had smelled a few days before entering her coma was that of the saint. Finally, he said that Padre Pio would heal her without any consequences. Then her father told her that she must return to her earthly life. But she replied that should would never want to depart from this place of such peace and immense happiness. However, he insisted, stating that Padre Pio wanted her to return to her family and to give testimony of all she has received. The mention of her family brought back the memory of her two little children, and she realized she must return. Guided by her father and the boy, she reentered the dark tunnel, but this time without any fear.

There is one more incident to relate. Teresa was in a coma for seven days before awakening. When she did, it was in the presence of her mother and a host of doctors and nurses. Shortly before she awoke, her mother had begun to smell the aroma of a very strong perfume. She knew that it signified the presence of Padre Pio. She asked the people in the room if anyone else smelled it, but all they could smell were medicines and carbolic acid. Her mother realized it must be a sign from heaven, since she was the only one that sensed it. So she shouted out with joy that it was the perfume of Padre Pio, and it meant that her daughter would soon come out of her coma! But the doctors thought she was hysterical, and tried to calm her.

In general, when someone awakens from a coma, they are confused and possibly raving. But about half an hour after her mother first noticed the perfume, Teresa awoke, and she was completely lucid. The doctors were astonished. It was an extraordinary case, one that they had never witnessed. She recognized her mother and cried out in a clear voice “Mamma!” And the date of her return just happened to be “coincidentally” May 25, Padre Pio's birthday.

Teresa was transported to a hospital in Rome, where she underwent two long and difficult operations to repair a vein that had split open in four places. But as Padre Pio had promised, all went well and there have been no consequences. As for her damaged right eye, it has mysteriously recovered completely, although the oculists had told her she would lose half of her vision in it. Shortly after her discharge, she resumed her university studies. According to the doctors, her recovery is a “miracle of nature,” but she knows she owes everything to Padre Pio. She is a member of a Padre Pio prayer group, and dedicates every moment of her free time to him, traveling everywhere to give her testimony.

Based on an article by Renzo Allegri, in Padre Pio Il Santo de Miracoli, pp. 41-45.

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Thursday, September 20, 2018

When Photos of Padre Pio Came up Blank

In some of the classic biographies of Padre Pio an unusual phenomenon is reported when visitors, pilgrims, or souvenir hunters tried to take his photo: they came up blank. Not always, but there are specific incidents when this was true. John McCaffery recounts one such story in his book, The Friar of San Giovanni. During the hot summer months, Padre Pio would occasionally offer Mass outdoors under a portico near the old church. McCaffery was slated to be a server at one of these ceremonies, and his friend Gino was determined to capture the event for posterity. He commissioned a local professional photographer to record the rite, this in spite of the fact that it was well known that Padre Pio was not amenable to being photographed or filmed, especially during his Mass.

As Padre Pio was approaching the outdoor altar, he noticed the photographer and his camera, and told him that he was to take only one or two photos at the Mass – and the man agreed. The photos were to be ready that afternoon, and McCaffery and Gino eagerly went over to see what the photographer had captured. He was not there, but his sister was, and she informed them that there was nothing to see. Her brother, she said, had tried to be too smart. He had agreed to Padre Pio's conditions, but during the Mass he could not restrain himself, and ended up shooting two complete rolls of film. “They all came out blank.” She looked at the two disappointed and irate men as if to say “What else could you expect?”

Later that evening McCaffery told the story to Padre Pio's good friend Dr. Sanguinetti, who was instrumental in the founding of Padre Pio's hospital. The Doctor replied that the exact same thing had happened to him – two rolls of film with nothing on them!

Mary Pyle was an American heiress who renounced the material life in order to live near Padre Pio, as a Third Order Franciscan. Interviewed in the 1950's for Maria Winowska's The True Face of Padre Pio, Pyle discussed the strange anomaly of the blank photos. She said that for years photographers had been frustrated in their efforts to photograph the saint, sometimes even creeping up on him to take him by surprise, but the negatives always came up blank. On the same roll, there could be magnificent views of landscapes, but on the photos of Padre Pio, there was nothing. Sometimes the shutter refused to move. But pilgrims had such great desire to have a picture of Padre Pio as a souvenir, that “his superiors ordered him to abandon his feud with the cameras.” Pyle commented that as a result, “the pictures you will see have been taken quite recently.” She added that many years of his life have been irreparably lost to photographers. If it had not been for the ecclesiastical authorities, we should not even have these!

A more recent book, L'Ultimo Segreto di Padre Pio, by journalist Enrico Malatesta, uncovers an intriguing new dimension to this phenomenon.

Mario De Renzis was a photo-journalist for Il Tempo, one of the major daily newspapers of Rome. It was 1960, and at that time the national press was focusing on the stigmatized friar from San Giovanni Rotondo. In an era becoming saturated with materialism, the example given by the humble servant of God constituted a ray of hope for the darkness of modern society. Consequently Mario's editors at Il Tempo gave him the assignment to report on and photograph the friary, the crowds, and the beloved friar himself. 

The little town of San Giovanni had been portrayed in the media as mecca for those on summer holiday, with tourists regarded as a great source of income. When he arrived at San Giovanni for the first time, he made a quick tour of the area, admiring the church of St. Mary of the Graces, the new hospital “Home for the Relief of Suffering,” and noting the many shops and the movements of the people. But when he proceeded to enter the church he was stopped by the ushers, and told that photographers could not be admitted – this would mean the failure of his entire assignment. Fortunately just at that time a number of buses pulled up, and as the pilgrims disembarked and made their way into the church, De Renzis fell in with them, and in this way he slipped inside. Padre Pio was on the altar, and the photographer discretely and with dexterity began to snap his pictures. But he was soon spotted, and the ushers clamored like it was the end of the world. In the ensuring confusion, he made straight for an an exit, and found himself in the garden of the convent.

Noticing a staircase, he clambered up it, entering a little corridor, which led to an open door. It was the entrance to the cell of Padre Pio. In spite of the fact that he had photographed him only a few minutes ago in the church, there he was in flesh and blood, in his room. How was this possible? A healthy person would need at least 15 minutes to get there, and Padre Pio with his painful wounds could only shuffle along slowly. At the time, De Renzis thought no more about it, now that he was in the presence of the saint. He and the Padre “exchanged what is now called in the liturgy the sign of peace,” and they shook hands. With his permission, he took a number of pictures of Padre Pio in his cell. The emotions and surprise of this encounter were so strong at the time that the photographer did not fully comprehend what had actually occurred. Padre Pio, the stigmatized priest, had clasped his hand in his own, without any hesitation and minimal discomfort – how could this greeting be possible with a painful and bloody wound in his palm?

As he left the friar's cell, he thought of the marvel that everyone was talking about – bilocation. In view of Padre Pio's extraordinary capabilities, he concluded that he had not been in the presence of the body of Padre Pio, but of his soul, his essence. And physical, bodily pain does not pertain to the soul, which is why Padre Pio was able to “tranquilly shake his hand.” His photography assignment accomplished, De Renzis visited the local shops to obtain some souvenirs, before returning to Rome.

At the offices of his newspaper, he developed his photos, and they turned out beautiful: Padre Pio celebrating Mass, the moment of Communion, the great crowds. As for the pictures taken with Padre Pio in his cell, they showed the room clearly, except for one strange thing – there was no Padre Pio visible in the photos! But his assignment at San Giovanni Rotondo was a great overall success, and the newspaper Il Tempo sold out at the newsstands. 

He never told anyone about what had happened – this particular event was something for him alone, a personal experience of his soul. Even now [around 30 years later] he is filled with nostalgia in thinking about his encounter with the holy friar. Padre Pio, with his extraordinary capabilities, helped him to obtain great satisfaction in his professional field, but much more so in the spiritual. “Now I can say it with greater clarity, my soul is filled with strong emotions that, at the mere memory of the encounter, still make my heart throb.”

Thanks to John McCaffery, The Friar of San Giovanni, p. 39; Maria Winowska, The True Face of Padre Pio, p. 50, Enrico Malatesta, L'Ultimo Segreto di Padre Pio, pp. 248-251.

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Monday, September 10, 2018

The Cure that Should Not Be

After a terrible accident, he was unable to bend his left knee, until he knelt in Padre Pio's confessional. But after the miraculous cure, the medical impediment to bending his knee still existed!

This is an example of a cure which should not be. Giuseppe Canaponi suffered from fibrous ankylosis, the stiffening of the knee due to the presence of fibrous bands around the bones forming the joint, and his left leg was completely rigid. The clinical examinations and tests after the cure showed that the physical condition which caused the infirmity continued to persist. There are many reports of the miraculous cure of Mr. Canaponi in the Padre Pio literature, and they differ in some of the particulars. Therefore, I have written the following from the earliest account I have been able to discover.

It is from an interview with journalist Carlo Trabucco, published May 17, 1951 in a Catholic newspaper of Bologna. He interviewed the railroad worker Giuseppe Canaponi at San Giovanni Rotondo, near Padre Pio's friary. He describes Giuseppe as 38 years old, of average height, with a smiling and pleasing face. At first he was a little embarrassed to tell his story, and did not know how to begin.

Canaponi: “You see how I am walking?”
Trabucco: “I see it.”
Canaponi: “Do you know where I am from?”
Trabucco: “Tuscany, no doubt.”
Canaponi: “Have you heard about it?”
Trabucco: “A little.”
Trabucco writes: This was just small talk, while he sought to gather his thoughts and present them in a certain order.

Canaponi: “I want to tell you about my adventure. You see this left leg? Three years ago it was a rigid stump, and now it is like a new leg. I received it anew back there, in the sacristy. How it happened I don't know. It is necessary that I explain to you how I recovered this left leg, but first let me tell you how I lost it. At Sarteano, my home town that is near Chiusi, a truck on June 26, 1946, broke the femur of my left leg.”

Trabucco writes: Saying this, he rolled up his trousers and showed me scars that provoked horror.

Canaponi: “I made the rounds of the hospitals in the area, Sarteano, Chiusi, Montepulciano, Siena and then Rizzoli in Bologna. It was useless. The conclusion you can read here in this original declaration of a hospital release in April, 1951. Here is what it says: 'This is to certify that Mr. Giuseppe Canaponi was hospitalized in this clinic in 1948 for anchilosi rifrosa [stiffness, rigidity] of his left knee due to a fracture of the femur. All the therapies, medical and physical, that were tried in order to force articulation under general anesthesia, did not work. Instead, these maneuvers succeeded in re-fracturing the femur. He was dismissed with his knee as rigid as it was upon his admittance.' Signed by the Director, Giuntini. “Have you read this? Did you understand?”

Trabucco: “I believe so. Knee is rigid, that is, it cannot be bent. And now I see that you can walk.”

Canaponi: “Walk? I run, I jump . . . you are looking at a person reborn. Before, I could not take it anymore. I blasphemed, cursed
my wife did not know what to do. I had some scary crises, during which I became like a beast. Then I would calm down and repent, until the next time. The leg caused me tremendous torture. Enduring great pain, I could take only a few steps using two crutches. My wife wanted me to go see Padre Pio. But I rebelled, and inveighed against him, but not knowing what else to do I relented. I went to see him accompanied by my wife and my son. In my condition it was not a pleasant journey.

“On the afternoon of December 28, 1948 I was in the sacristy for my confession to Padre Pio. He said to me: “You blaspheme much, you curse everyone, you are restless.” I replied, “Yes Padre, it is true. It was the sufferings, the long illness, the injections that had changed me.” The Padre went on: “However, afterwards you repented, went into your room and prayed.” I said to myself, “This is strange, he knows everything, he is telling me my confession. I said, “Padre, pray that the Lord removes from me this brutal defect.” He replied, “You must be a strong person, otherwise it would be useless for the Lord to give you the grace.”

“Only in that moment did I realize that I was kneeling down, and I said to myself that I have already received the grace because I have bent my knee that for three years has been immobile! I rose up, taking my crutches, and instead of using them to support me, I carried them in my arms. With my son I went into the church where my wife looked at me with amazement upon seeing me walk. “Yes, it is true,” I said. “It seems to me that in the sacristy I had even knelt.” My wife did not want to believe this, and my son said, “Yes, Papa, I saw it, you were on your knees.”

As if dreaming we returned to the hotel, and in the room I took a pillow, laid it on the floor, and went down on my knees. It was true. It was true. The next morning I went to Padre Pio to thank him for the grace, but he told me: “It was not I who gave you the grace. Thank the Lord, only the Lord.”

Trabucco writes: And that was the “adventure” of Giuseppe Canaponi. Then I asked him “And the doctors?”

Canaponi: “When I returned to Sarteano everyone was astonished, friends and enemies. The curious thing is that this grace caused enmity among some who were my friends. Meanwhile the railroad was going on with the process to have me discharged and sent home. In order to stop the proceedings, I asked for a visit at Florence from the Railroad Inspector. It was granted and I made known to professor Prosperi what had happened. He read and re-read what was in the hospital records and exclaimed that according to these documents, I would never be able to bend my knee. I told him that for me it is otherwise. He said that he sees it, and I am correct and not the records, because I can walk. Therefore, I remained working at the railroad and returned to my usual post at the station in Chiusi. Now, every time that I can, I travel to San Giovanni Rotondo, because here is where I recovered my health and my peace of soul.”

In a further interview, years later, conducted by Renzo Allegri, Canaponi said that when he and his family arrived back home in Sarteano, it was New Years Eve. There was a celebration and dance at a local venue, and he and his wife decided to attend. When he entered, walking normally, the room became quiet as a tomb. Everyone had known about his condition, and that he could not take a step on his own, and they also knew that he had been to see Padre Pio. The people from that area were almost all communists, thus they were not open to believing in miracles. Seeing that he was cured, they were embarrassed. But he embraced his wife, and they began to dance. Everyone stepped aside, but then after a few minutes the people began to applaud. They danced for over two hours.

In the following days, he returned to the clinic at Siena, and the doctors were astonished. First of all, just in seeing him walk. And then, because the x-rays of his knee showed that nothing had changed. The anchilosi rifrosa was still present, and they said that it is not possible that he could be walking. Later, Professor Giuntini presented his case in Rome at a medical congress. There Canaponi was examined by various specialists, who marveled at his case.

Ultimately, Giuntini released a formal document, stamped and signed “University of Siena, Orthopedic Clinic, Director Leopoldo Giuntini.” The last sentence reads “We therefore have reason to believe that the sudden recovery of the articular movement, in the case of Mr. Canaponi, constitutes an extraordinary event that can not find, within the limits of current scientific knowledge, a logical explanation.”

Before seeing Padre Pio, Giuseppe had been declared a permanent invalid. Since the physical cause of his disability was still present even after the miracle, the doctors continue to confirm his status as an invalid. “Even today, for science and for the state, I am an invalid: I cannot walk; and yet, as you see, I walk in a perfect manner.”

Trabucco interview taken from F. Chiocci and L. Cirri, Padre Pio Storia D'una Vittima, pp. 667-669.  Also, Renzo Allegri, Padre Pio Il Santo de Miracoli, pp. 344-349.

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