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