I recently began to re-read parts of a book on St. Padre Pio I had written about a dozen years ago. As time goes by, even authors have to refresh their memories about the content of their own work. I had been contacted by an organization interested in the saint's interaction with the American military during World War II. In fact, not far from Padre Pio's friary in the town of San Giovanni Rotondo, the Army Air force had established a ring of air fields girding the town of Foggia.
Foggia was on an enormous plain, situated just below the Gargano mountain, upon which sat San Giovanni Rotondo. Often the soldiers and airmen would explore nearby towns, and
exchange candy and cigarettes for fresh eggs and vegetables from the
locals. During these interchanges, the troops began hearing stories
about some mysterious holy man on the mountain.
Before long, many soldiers, with some Protestants joining the Catholics, were making the trek up the Gargano to attend Padre Pio's early morning Mass. One of these men was Ray Ewen, who was attached to a bomb group of B-24s based near Foggia. From 1943 to 1945 Ray made so many trips up the mountain that he became friends not only with Padre Pio but also with the saint's father Grazio, who was residing near the friary. Ray would often sit on the little stone wall surrounding the elm tree in front of the friary, listening to Grazio Forgione talk about his famous son.
Quoting directly from the book, Padre Pio and America, pp. 120-121, is the following occurrence that Ray Ewen spoke to me about:
"On one of his visits to San Giovanni, Ray was inside the church while Confessions were taking place, and he heard Padre Pio order someone out of the confessional. After hearing Padre Pio say this, some of those waiting their turn in line lost their nerve, got out of the line, and left. They had witnessed one of the distinctive marks of Padre Pio's ministry of bringing souls to God. He would refuse to hear a Confession on those occasions when he was aware that the penitent was insincere, or required a jolt to make him realize that he needed to examine his conscience. It is said that invariably such people would undergo an inner conversion, and eventually return to make a sincere Confession either to Padre Pio or to another priest."
Padre Pio and America is available at Amazon.com or from the publisher TAN Books.