Giacomo Gaglione, the spiritual child of Padre Pio that most resembled him.
Giacomo Gaglione first met Padre Pio not long after the friar had received the gift of the stigmata in the choir loft of the little church of St. Mary of the Graces, at San Giovanni Rotondo. He had read about him in 1919 in one of very first newspaper articles about Padre Pio, that related the wonders of this new miracle worker from an obscure town in the poverty-stricken south of Italy. The article caught the attention of Giacomo because it spoke glowingly of prodigies and cures reportedly as a result of the prayers of this monk, and Giacomo desperately needed a cure. For the past seven years he had been almost completely paralyzed by a rare form of polyarthritis. He was in constant pain, and could only find some relief by lying in a specially constructed iron wheelchair that had to be set at a 45 degree angle. He was not able to speak, but since his fingers and hands could move, he was capable of writing.
He contracted this illness suddenly and unexpectedly when he was a young teenager about to finish his secondary education. He came from a prominent family with a long line of lawyers on his father's side, going back to the 1600's, and his mother was from the wealthy nobility. Born in 1896 in Marcianise, in south-central Italy, he was the first of many children, and had all the advantages, materially and socially, that would presage a brilliant career. He had been extremely active in sports, especially cycling which was gaining popularity at that time, even entering and winning some races. Athletic, intelligent and handsome, it is not surprising that he was especially popular with the young ladies.
All this changed practically overnight when he was only sixteen years old. It began with a sharp pain in the heel of his right foot, and in a few days his feet and legs began to swell. The pain was atrocious, and soon he was unable to move any of his limbs. In a very short time, he became an invalid who had to be spoon-fed by his mother. His affluent family used every possible means to determine what was wrong and how to cure him, but medical science was at a loss. The very best specialists were consulted, and everything from massages to visits to a geothermal spring were tried. Even surgery proved useless.
However, Giacomo continued to believe that some day he would be healed, and he actually made plans to marry a girl who lived in an apartment in the same palazzo. This dream fueled his hope and gave him a reason for living. Apparently they were in love, and their friendship was accepted by both families for a time. But eventually the girl's mother realized that she did not want her daughter to spend her life caring for an invalid, no matter how illustrious or wealthy his family was. She persuaded Giacomo's mother to put an end to the relationship. But his mother knew that this would be a great blow to Giacomo, and she could not deliver it herself. Instead she asked the family priest to gently break the news to her son. As the priest approached the subject with him in a round-about way, Giacomo quickly understood what he meant, and that his hopes were destroyed. Screaming, he tried to grab a scissor that was nearby, in a vain attempt to end his life. From then on he had to be watched constantly. He became rebellious, rancorous, blasphemous, and had lost the will to live.
It was in this state of mind and soul that he first heard of Padre Pio. The article he saw in the paper was not just a short notice, but rather an extensive report made by journalist Renato Trevisani, who had been specifically assigned by his employer, a major Neapolitan newspaper, to throughly investigate and report on the phenomena associated with the mysterious Franciscan friar. Initially skeptical, he became sold on the saint after spending a week at San Giovanni. He wrote without reserve about how the blood of the stigmata allowed Padre Pio to intercede before God to perform miracles, and Trevisani spoke directly with people who had been healed.
As Giacomo read through this article, which consumed six columns of the newspaper, hope began to return to him. He announced to the family his intention to go and see Padre Pio, and was quite enthusiastic about making the journey. He became convinced that he would return from San Giovanni Rotondo completely cured. He even began to re-kindle his relationship with the girl he wanted to marry some day. But all this frightened his family, who were concerned that if a cure were not obtained, it would certainly be devastating – the end of everything for Giacomo. Consequently, they did their best to dissuade him from making such a fatiguing trip. Giacomo would not hear of it and wanted to go whatever the difficulties.
Finally, a group pilgrimage was organized, comprised of his parents, some aunts and uncles, various friends, and the family doctor. The trip was grueling. First, they spent six hours in a crowded train compartment. Next they had to wait five hours in Bari in search of a vehicle capable of transporting Giacomo and his customized wheelchair. Then he was forced to spend the next five hours stretched out on a car seat with his head protruding out a window, during a raging storm, before reaching San Giovanni Rotondo.
Finally Giacomo found himself before Padre Pio. He had been waiting for this encounter for months, in order to ask for a cure of the painful malady that had immobilized him for the past seven years. First he made his confession. But then, as he later wrote: “Padre Pio looked at me with his eyes so deep and so beautiful and smiled at me, with the smile of an innocent child. To see Padre Pio and to forget the reason for my journey was one and the same event.” He had found a treasure greater than the cure he had sought. He understood that his destiny was not to be cured, but to accept his sufferings as Padre Pio did; as a sharing and collaboration in the redemptive sufferings of Christ for the salvation of others. The veil that hides the mystery of the value of suffering was lifted; he saw that enduring the immobilization of his entire body on his cross of iron was similar to Padre Pio's carrying the wounds of Christ on his hands, feet and chest. Giacomo was healed when he ceased to desire a healing.
He now comprehended the true value of his own life, and knew that this call to carry his own cross was the will of God. This calling, that was communicated to him while gazing at the expressive eyes and smile of Padre Pio, was strong and clear. He stated later, “During this encounter with Padre Pio he performed a surgical operation; he removed my head and gave me another one in its place. [Mi ha tolto una testa e me ne ha messa un'altra.] If it is a miracle to make a paralyzed young man walk again, it is even more of a miracle to make him welcome with joy, for his entire life, the will of God.” Padre Pio could have asked the Lord for his healing, but instead he saw that this man had the makings of a hero, with a strong soul, daring heart, and tenacious will, that could brave this Calvary.
When he returned home he began a new existence. His family and friends realized that he had become a different person. Now he was cheerful and happy, he laughed and joked, his visage reflecting an inner joy. From then on, Giacomo was a man “crucified with a smile.” He would dedicate his entire life to caring for the sick and infirm, teaching them the immense value of suffering.
Giacomo was the spiritual child of Padre Pio that was the most similar to him. Just as Padre Pio bore the stigmata for fifty years, so did Giacomo remain crucified on his cross of iron for fifty years. Just as Padre Pio founded his hospital, The House for the Relief of Suffering, so did Giacomo found the movement of The Apostolate of Suffering. He represented one of the most electrifying miracles wrought by God through the intercession of the Padre. The two men continued to remain in touch with each other, and the “perfume” of Padre Pio often filled his house, as he appeared to Giacomo in bilocation.
Many people sought him out for advice and counsel. He could move his hands, and with these he wrote some 3,500 letters a year to the infirm who sought a word of consolation. He founded a periodical, published articles and books, and organized pilgrimages to Lourdes, Loreto, and of course San Giovanni Rotondo. In one book he wrote: “The sick person is the most sensitive person on earth: one smile can exalt him or a certain look can plunge him into a deep and fearsome moral isolation. The infirm person has the mission to glorify the Lord and help sustain creatures in His grace.”
In May of 1962 he approached his final Calvary, his body covered with painful blisters. Visited by one of the friars, Giacomo asked him to write Padre Pio to obtain the grace that he could die in the month dedicated to Mary. Padre Pio assured him that the grace was obtained. When he passed away on May 28, 1962, his funeral in Marcianise was a triumph; the police barely managed to hold back the crowds. Padre Pio sent a telegram to his family: “With Jesus on the cross, with Jesus in holy Paradise.” When asked if he was a saint, Padre replied, “A saint? Giacomo is a great saint!”
His cause for canonization has been initiated, and in April 2009 Pope Benedict XVI declared him to be Venerable Giacomo Gaglione, in recognition of his heroic virtues.
The information for this article came primarily from Renzo Allegri's Padre Pio, Il Santo dei Miracoli, also from an article by Stefano Campanella in Voce di Padre Pio magazine, December 2007, and from other sources.
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