Thursday, July 19, 2018

At Mass, He Saw Padre Pio Crowned with Thorns

At Mass, He saw Padre Pio crowned with thorns; until then he had considered him a fraud and charlatan.

While Padre Pio was still alive, there was a pious young girl who was engaged to a university student who had lost his faith, disdaining religious practices. She would not go through with marrying him unless he returned to the Church. They had argued about this incessantly but to no avail. Finally he consented to come to San Giovanni Rotondo with her, although he was quite cynical. He did not believe in the holiness of Padre Pio, considering him an impostor and charlatan.

They went to early Mass a the friary church, and on the first morning the girl was amazed to see her fiancé looking pale and shocked as he gazed at the altar during the Consecration. He whispered to her, “Does this happen every day?” She said yes, but was not aware of what he really meant by the question. This went on for a number of days.

One morning at Mass she saw him crying like a baby. Leaving the church, he explained to her that he sees Padre Pio on the altar with a knotted crown of thorns on his head, and blood running down his face. His priestly garments are illuminated by a dazzling light. He looks like the “Ecce Homo!” with his face transformed into the face of Jesus. The fiancé said he was crying because he was so moved upon seeing that in spite of all his apparent suffering, Padre Pio remained serene, sweet and peaceful. The young man thought that everyone else in the church saw the same thing.

The girl was amazed and troubled. She did not know if he was being completely truthful, or if he was suffering from an emotionally induced illusion. Thus, after she made her confession to Padre Pio, she asked the saint if her fiancé had really seen what he had told her about. He confirmed that what he had said to her was true.

The young man himself went to see Padre Pio in the sacristy. He told him that at first he saw three crowns of thorns, and then at other times what looked like a bonnet of thorns. The Padre told him, “Thank the Lord, and don't be frightened or afflicted, because I am not suffering as much as it appears,” [“io non soffro quanto tu vedi"]. He asked him to speak to no one about this. “The secrets of God are to be guarded in the heart. The Lord loves you, make the effort to always be faithful to Him.”

The young man in fact did not tell anyone, but it was his fiancée and relatives that spread the word. They added that the young man, when at Mass, could only see the altar and Padre Pio, and not the other people who filled the little church. Cleonice Morcaldi, a long-time spiritual daughter of Padre Pio, was a friend of the man. When Padre Alberto D'Apolito went to visit her, he met him in person, and the fiancé confirmed the truth of everything. In his book of Memories, Padre D'Apolito says that the name of this youth was Bruno G., and he was from Lucera, a small town not far from San Giovanni Rotondo. He writes that a few years later, Padre Pio himself married the couple, and they remained faithful to the Church.

This conversion story was told to a Polish woman staying at San Giovanni, who happened to be a painter. Inspired by the event, she painted a picture of the head of Padre Pio crowned with thorns, with his suffering face covered with blood. It was not just a circular crown, but a rough mass of thorns as if pressed down upon his head. “And that, if we think of it, is exactly how it must have been,” wrote John McCaffery, who had been invited to see the painting. It was hanging on the wall of the home of Cleonice Morcaldi. The picture was covered with a kind of veil out of caution, lest someone think it presumptuous to paint Padre Pio this way, without having heard the background story behind it.

When Cleonice first heard the reports about the vision, she prayed to the Blessed Mother to assist her in finding out the truth from Padre Pio himself. One day, after confessing to him, she asked if was true that the young man saw the crown of thorns on his head. Padre Pio replied “E ne dubiti?” [And you doubt it?”], as he shut the confessional's window. In her own book about her memories of the saint, Miss Morcaldi added that some time later, she asked Padre Pio if he bore the crown of thorns outside of Mass. His reply was, “Yes, both before and afterwards.” She asked which sins were expiated by Jesus by these thorns. His reply, “All of them, particularly sinful thoughts.” Another time he said to Cleonice, “You must know that through Divine condescension I suffer all that Jesus suffered, his entire Passion, as much as possible for a human creature.”

Thanks to the following for this article:  Cleonice Mordaldi's La Mia Vita Vicino A Padre Pio;  John  McCaffery's The Friar of San Giovanni, Tales of Padre Pio;  Padre Alberto D'Apolito's Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, Memories, Experiences, Testimonials; and Fr. John A. Schug's A Padre Pio Profile.
View my writings on Padre Pio and others Here

Monday, July 16, 2018

"A Saint on My Back!"

After his near-death experience, Padre Pio bilocated to hear his confession.  Cecil Humphrey-Smith then became the saint's close friend.

In the fall of 1955, Cecil Humphrey-Smith, an Englishman and a convert to the Catholic Church, was a quality-control representative for the H. J. Heinz Company. He was sent to Italy, and was responsible for the tomato fields in the Po Valley. It was his job to determine whether the crops met Heinz' strict standards, and his approval was needed before any fruit or concentrate could be sent to England. That summer, it was hot, with rain and hail, causing lots of problems with the crops. When a farmer notified Heinz that his crop was ready, it had to be inspected immediately for a decision on its acceptability.

With many of his colleagues away, Cecil had to cover a large area of the Valley himself, and on the night of September 24, he returned to his hotel extremely tired after working long days with very little sleep. But then a call came in from a farmer who insisted on having his crop inspected immediately before the rains began again. Reluctantly, he climbed into his car and began a long journey on country roads that been neglected in the ten years since the war had ended. Unfortunately, the rain had resumed and he was forced to reject the crop, to the great dismay of the farmer and his crying wife. He felt very sorry for them, but there was nothing he could do since the unrelenting rain had caused cracks to appear in the tomatoes, with fungus soon to follow, and they would have been rejected if sent ahead.

Driving back late at night and desperate for some much needed sleep, all he wanted to do now was get back to his hotel room. It was then that he had the accident. As he was driving, he dozed off momentarily, and when he suddenly woke up, he accidentally hit the accelerator. As the car shot forward, he saw the headlight of a motorcycle coming towards him; swerving in order to avoid it, he smashed into a bridge, splitting his car in two.

According to Cecil, “At that moment I had what is now termed an 'out-of-body' experience.” The fuel tank had landed about 15 feet from the main wreckage, and Cecil, looking down upon the scene, could see his body lying alongside the tank. It was night, on a rural road, in a region where automobiles were few. Eventually a car came along, but it just kept going. The same happened with the next. Finally, a third car approached - by that time Cecil was having a near-death experience, where he entered a long tunnel and was drawn towards a heavenly light. “I knew everything would be all right when I reached that light.”

But when the third car passed by, and then stopped and came back, Cecil seemed to find himself back in his body. He heard two men and a woman debate what they should do, finally deciding to drive him themselves to the nearest hospital. As they picked him up, he drifted out of his body again, and saw himself in the back seat of the car, his head resting on a newspaper on the woman's lap. He could see the car all the way to the hospital, “It was if I were traveling just behind and way above it, all the way, going faster and faster.”

At the hospital in Piacenza, he became aware that he was being wheeled on a patient trolley along a corridor. He could feel a doctor checking his head and body, and then a sheet was pulled up over his head, and the trolley was pushed into a room. He had no idea how much time had elapsed before he woke up in a hospital bed, after it was discovered he was still alive. His skull was cracked, he had a broken shoulder and collar bone, a cracked vertebra, and ribs, elbow, knee and ankle were broken or badly bruised. “I was in rather a mess.”

Booklet by Cecil Humphrey-Smith

While he was lying in bed, the door opened and a bearded Franciscan friar entered. He sat down beside Cecil and proceeded to help him, or rather forced him, to make a good confession. “He was pretty brutal at times.” When Cecil could not remember something, the priest would tell him what it was, reminding him of such and such a sin in his life. The confession went on and on, and Cecil had to admit that the friar seemed to know things better than he did. No stone was left unturned, his life was thoroughly scoured. “I think subconsciously I was getting a bit cheesed off at the insistence of this priest confessing me.” Before he left, the friar administered the last rites to Cecil, consisting of absolution, holy oils, and Holy Communion. Cecil closed his eyes and felt at peace; what he remembered most about this encounter was the priest's most beautiful smile.
The next morning, his close friend and work colleague the Marchese Bernardo Patrizi came by with a local parish priest, who administered Communion again. In the days that followed, Bernardo arranged to have Cecil transferred to a specialized clinic for a time, and from there Bernardo took him to his own palace and estate near Monza. There he was cared for by Patrizi's two daughters, and also by a friend of the family, a princess who was a daughter of Umberto, the last King of Italy.

Eventually he was deemed well enough to return to work with the Heinz corporation. But he before long he began to have dizzy spells, and would fall asleep at strange times. He started blacking out and had many falls. The worst problems, however, were the excruciating pains in his head, “a pain like a thousand dentist's drills hitting the nerves.” Sometimes he would literally bang his head against the wall, smashing up furniture in the process. He was sent to a hospital in London for treatment, which consisted of a few dozen different pills a day. At the hospital he even underwent hypnosis, on the theory that he had subconscious guilt for possibly having killed someone in the auto accident. His statement about the accident under hypnosis was recorded, but he was speaking in Italian! When translated, it turned out to be the same as his original statement.

After further hospitals and years of medical treatments, his old associate Bernardo Patrizi thought it was ridiculous that he should still be suffering, even seven years after the accident. Bernardo asked Cecil to come with him on a journey to meet one of his close friends. Bernardo did not tell him anything about where they were going, but spoke instead about every other possible topic. The trip ended with a harrowing ride up a twisted mountain-side road in the dark. Cecil was in intense pain all the way. Finally they checked into a small hotel called Santa Maria della Grazie, and went straight to bed. They had reached the town of San Giovanni Rotondo, situated upon the Gargano Mountain.

Very early that morning, Bernardo woke him up and said they were going to Mass. It was snowing and bitterly cold as they trudged up to the church. Although it was still dark out, there was an incredible crowd waiting for the church to open. The doors were finally unbolted, “and then what I can only describe as a 'whoosh' as the crowd surged through and literally ran to fill up the front seats.” In his English reserve, Cecil stood aside to let them pass, and as a result he ended up sitting alone near the back of the church. Then an old priest came out to say Mass.

Time seemed to disappear. “From then on all I can say is that I seemed to witness a complete sharing in the Passion, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Christ. I was transported to the foot of Calvary.” Cecil seemed to be in a state of stupor when the Mass ended. Then he realized that Bernardo had found him, and was pulling him towards the sacristy. They entered the room along with a large group of people. He told Bernardo that this was the priest that had confessed him and brought him Communion just after the crash. At one end of the sacristy was a kneeler, where the old priest was making his thanksgiving after Mass. Then he arose and began walking to greet everyone in turn. Cecil was experiencing his usual intense pain, and was disturbed by his recognition of the priest, who warmly embraced Bernardo. He wondered what Bernardo's relationship with him was.

Bernardo asked Cecil to kneel down, and he said to the priest that this was the Englishman he had told him about. Cecil knelt, and the old priest in a somewhat gruff voice said “Eh Be. Be,” while tapping three times on the right side of Cecil's head. “The pain left me immediately.” The priest continued walking down the line without looking back. Then he turned to give a final blessing to everyone, and Cecil was transfixed by his eyes. He tearfully rose to his feet, basking in a state of great joy.

In all the years he had known Bernardo, never once had he mentioned that he knew Padre Pio, although he was his spiritual child and close friend. As they left the church and went back down the hill to their hotel, Bernardo began to relate to Cecil about his association with him, and how he was appointed treasurer of his charitable works. While they were at breakfast, one of the friars came dashing in, saying that Padre Pio wanted to see them in his room. They returned to the friary and “chatted” with the saint in his cell. That evening they met with him again in a large drawing room, along with some of the doctors and collaborators of his hospital, La Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza.

As the people arrived, they would kneel to greet Padre Pio, and kiss his hand. Cecil, with his usual English reserve, bent over and, perhaps because he reminded him of his old grandfather. kissed the Padre on his forehead! Padre Pio took his face in his hands, saying “Bravo, Inglese, Bravo,” while patting his cheeks. From then on he always called Cecil “L'Inglese,” the Englishman.

They attended these meetings for the next four or five days, and they became engraved in Cecil's memory. As people reported their progress on the Padre's charitable works, there was an atmosphere of warmth and relaxation. With so much being discussed, they seemed to last two or three hours, while in reality they were over in less than half an hour. Padre Pio seemed to have the ability to make time stand still, and to speak to several people at once. He was often joking, yet during the meeting he prayed continuously, his hands constantly turning on the rosary beads. When he would address Cecil, it was as if no one else was there. He seemed to live in a different time, almost beyond time. “I truly believe he had extraordinary abilities, could do many things at one time, and already lived partly outside time.”

After the meetings, Padre Pio would participate in night prayers with the community in their internal chapel. The traditional ending of the night prayers was an anthem to the Blessed Mother, the Salve Regina. He always shed tears during this prayer, weeping so copiously that he usually moved the rest of the community to tears as well. He never passed by an image of her without offering a greeting to his Heavenly Mother. While the Vatican Council was in session, someone once asked him if we would ever see women priests. Padre Pio turned on the person quick as a flash, with fire in his eyes. “Would you insult the Mother of God?”

Cecil wrote of these experiences, and much more, in an out-of-print booklet, A Saint on My Back. This article is based on a chapter in Jim Gallagher's book Padre Pio the Pierced Priest, and on an Internet site. These sources most likely relied on Cecil's booklet.

View my writings on Padre Pio and others Here

Friday, July 6, 2018

Padre Pio's Visits to Irene Gaeta in Bilocation

How he saved her from a violent attack, and how she saw the Host turn into real flesh. She mentions a book containing the Prophecies of Padre Pio kept by his Friary.

When Irene Gaeta was nine years old and living near Ostia, Italy, she became so traumatized and upset from an attempted rape by a young man that she feared telling anyone about it, not even her parents or the parish priest. She had been lured to the home of an older girl that she knew, where there were a number of other girls and a half-naked man waiting in a bedroom. After she entered, someone locked the door with a key and the young man threw her on the bed. She doesn't remember how, but she got away from under him, falling on the floor. Screaming for help, in her panic she managed to get through the locked door and was able to escape. Afterwards, she lived in fear, afraid to tell about it lest they try to take her again as revenge, and afraid that her father would come after them with a shotgun if she told her parents.

Irene was born in Lanciano to a family with strong Catholic faith and traditions, which was blessed with many priestly and religious vocations. She has always loved the Church, and would give her life for Her, and has always been unconditionally obedient and loyal to priests and pope. Undoubtedly accustomed to prayer even as a child, she received an unexpected visit from a priest some months after her terrifying experience.

It was the evening of June 18, 1946; as she was getting ready to go to sleep for the night, her bedroom became filled with a bright, supernatural light. In that light she could see a priest with a beard, dressed in sacred vestments of white and gold. He appeared to be celebrating Mass, and he blessed Irene with the monstrance. The look in this priest's eyes cut her to the quick, and the emotions she felt in that moment were indescribable. The priest told her to pay careful attention to everything that she sees. Then she saw the host turn into real flesh, and when he raised the chalice, the wine become blood, which overflowed and rained down upon the hands and arms of the priest. As he returned the chalice to the altar, he calmly told Irene not to worry or be afraid.

Following the advice of her grandmother against diabolical deceptions and illusions, she asked him three times who he was. He answered that he was Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, but she had never heard of that town. She told him that she did not know him, and he responded that he is a friar who prays, and one day she will know him. He gave a little tug to her ear, and then showed her what had happened to her not long ago in that bedroom. He said that he was the one who had saved her, opening the door that had been locked securely with a key. She asked him how he could know this event in her life, since not even her parents knew about it. The priest responded “I know everything about you, because ever since you were born, the Eternal Father has entrusted you to my hands. I have saved you and will always save you.”

He came closer, now no longer wearing the priestly garments, but dressed as a Franciscan friar. Sitting beside her on her bed, he took her hands in his, telling her not to be afraid, adding: “Look my daughter, this is not a dream, this is reality.” As proof, when she gets up in the morning, she is to tell her parents everything about this. “Tell your father to remain calm because all will be well.” Her father had recently lost his job and did not know whether he should stay in Rome. Padre Pio told her that in three days he will receive a letter offering work with a salary. “And so that your parents believe what you are saying, tell your mother that I know she had a miscarriage.”

Still a child, Irene did not know what a miscarriage was, but her mother confirmed that it had happened, without explaining to her what it meant. Then in thee days a letter arrived from the State Forestry Commission saying that her father had been given a job, and because of his previous good work record and large family, a pension was included. (He had been responsible for the Gardens of the Quirinale, at the service of the King of Italy, until his dethronement by referendum.) Everything was resolved as Padre Pio predicted.

From then on, over the course of many years, Padre Pio helped Irene in all the circumstances of her life. He would often visit her in bilocation, and sometimes she saw him in her dreams. Under his guidance and spiritual fatherhood, she learned to pray to the Eternal Father, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and to the Heavenly Mother. Sometimes he requested her to pray to save people from the accidental explosion of mines or of unexploded bombs. She approached many people about the Faith, praying with them and inviting them to conversion and confession. He always told her what would happen to her or to her family, no matter if it was good or bad. Since the predictions were not always good news, they began to call her “the little bird of bad tidings.” All this time she did not really know who Padre Pio was.

Then one day in the spring of 1957 she was surprised to see his picture on the front page of a newspaper, and she exclaimed to her mother, “This is the friar I always see!” It was only then that she realized that he was still living. She had thought that he must be a saint from the past, since she had been graced with visits from St. Anthony of Padua, St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows, and the holy souls in Purgatory. The picture in the paper said he was from San Giovanni Rotondo, though she only knew him as Padre Pio of Pietrelcina. As she gazed at the photo it seemed to come to life, taking form before her very eyes. He did not say anything, but looked at her as he did on the first night that he had visited her. She had the feeling he was chiding her for not having come come to see him at his friary. 

She wrote to him and he replied. Finally, over two years later, when she was 23, she arrived a San Giovanni Rotondo. It was during the time when Pope John XXIII had placed many restrictions on his ministry. It was extremely difficult to meet with him, and time limitations were placed on his confessions. She entered a confessional, and although Padre Pio was in his friary cell at the time, his face became superimposed over that of the priest who was there. She made her confession to him and he told her many things which she can not repeat. He also gave her some instructions regarding her companion Lucia. He then disappeared, no one else having seen him.

Later he appeared in bilocation to Irene in her hotel room, and told her to return to Rome via Frosinone with her friend Lucia. There was a man dying there who had not seen his daughter for ten years. It was Lucia's father who was dying, and he had asked Our Lady to see his daughter one more time. Irene did as Padre Pio wished, and as they drove to Frosinone, Lucia was amazed since she had never told Irene that her parents lived there. Only a few hours after the reunion between Lucia and her father, he passed on to the Heavenly Father's House, his prayer to Our Lady having been granted.

Irene became an active spiritual daughter of Padre Pio, first going on her own and then organizing several trips to San Giovanni from Rome. As a spiritual father, he did not just look after the souls of his children, but truly and lovingly cared about their whole lives, their activities and their families. Because of her love for the Lord and all that had happened to her, Irene often thought of embracing the monastic religious life. She became a Franciscan Tertiary and embraced the efforts of Catholic Action. When Bishop Ettore Cunial, who was Vicar of Rome at the time of her youth, heard about her experiences with Padre Pio in bilocation, he asked her why she had never told him about it. She answered that until she met him in the flesh, she did not tell anyone except her family because she thought it was a ghost who used to appear to her.

In 1961, on one of her visits to Padre Pio (in the flesh) at his friary, she told him of her wish to enter a convent, and he replied that there is nothing more beautiful than a true vocation. He added, “In three months I will tell you what you must do.” When that time arrived he told Irene that he wanted to acquaint her with the elites of the high aristocracy, not because she is to live like them, but to help her understand how poor they really are inside. In a short time, she opened a high fashion atelier as a designer on Rome's Via Frattina. Among her clients were the greatest names of the aristocracy and of the world of entertainment. It that way she was able to help many people return to the love of God and live a life of grace.

Irene eventually married, with Padre Pio's approval of course. She is involved in a host of spiritual and charitable activities, primarily centered on the parish of Vitinia, a Rome suburb. Padre Pio, who has guided her even after his death, asked her to form an association of souls who live the gospel the way he lived it. With a Rule written by the late Father Gerardo Di Flumeri, the vice-postulator of Padre Pio's canonization, the group is called The Disciples of Padre Pio. Initially she was scandalized when Father Gerardo suggested that name, since disciples should be of Jesus. But he told her that “In Padre Pio, Jesus lived! The stones of San Giovanni Rotondo are bathed in the blood of Jesus. If it had not been Jesus in him, he would not have lived more than three days for the blood he was shedding! The Disciples of Padre Pio is also written in the book of his Prophecies.” He then gave specific page numbers. Irene asked Father Gerardo to say something more about these Prophecies to her, and he replied “No! It will be given up drop by drop within 100 years, otherwise the world would be upset!”

This article is based on Irene Gaeta's own testimony [here] and on her interviews with Jim Gallagher as reported in his excellent book Padre Pio the Pierced Priest [here].

View my writings on Padre Pio and others Here