It happened back in 1939, when Gigino was only nine years old. Everyone at San Giovanni Rotondo called him Gigino, but his name was actually Luigi Capotosto. He lived with his parents on the Viale dei Cappuccini, the road which led directly to the friary and church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. One day near the Patariello, the hill upon which the friary stood, Gigino played a nasty trick on his best friend by furtively stealing his knapsack, which contained the lunch that the boy was to bring to his father at work. Just as he was about to open the satchel to partake of its contents, he saw a friar emerge from along the top of the hill – it was Padre Pio, although Gigino did not know it at the time.
Gigino, fearful that his “crime” had been discovered, tried to flee to avoid being punished, but he tripped and fell at the edge of the road, which was rugged and unpaved at the time. He scraped his knee, and as the blood ran down his leg, he saw the friar approaching him. He was terrified, because he feared the monk had found him out and was going to report him to the police. He had heard that not long ago, when a boy of his age had broken a window, the boy and his parents were summoned to the police station.
But instead, to his surprise, the friar, showing great compassion, came over to help him, and in a gentle and kind voice asked what had happened. The intensity of his eyes, the magnetic expression of his face, and a smile that invited trust and affection, induced Gigino to make a complete confession of the entire event. “I told him of the games we boys were playing and confessed that I stole the rucksack of my best friend. Then when I added that I knew that it contained his father's lunch, the monk did not have hard words for me or threaten me with punishment. Instead, with a calm voice and in a reassuring tone, he explained to me all the consequences of my action. After a hard morning's work, the father of that boy would have nothing to eat. My seemingly innocent trick has become instead an abuse of the poor worker. It was a lesson in life that, even though I learned it while so young, has remained impressed in my mind as an indelible memory throughout the years.”
As he rose to his feet, Gigino noticed that the friar's hands appeared to be wrapped in cloth. He asked out of simple, childlike curiosity, if he too had fallen down. Why were his hands wrapped? The monk answered that no, he had not fallen. “These are my poor sacrifices for the Lord.” Astonished, Gigino asked him who was this Lord, and Padre Pio's concise reply was “One day you will see and you will understand.”
Now, as an adult, Gigino can firmly avow that those words were prophetic, because on the day of his accident, he truly understood who this Lord was. He had become a delivery truck driver, and periodically drove up the Gargano mountain from the plains below to San Giovanni Rotondo, to deliver meats and grains to various stores and other businesses. The serpentine road along the mountain-side is extremely steep, consisting of five sharp, hair-pin turns, with the edge of the road dangerously close to the cliffs with sheer drop-offs below.
One day in 1963 with Gigino driving the truck, and a co-worker sitting next to him in the cab, they began the long descent down the mountain after making their delivery run. As they were making a turn around one of the sharp bends in the road, Gigino tried to slow down the truck, when he suddenly realized that the brakes did not work. The steel control rod connecting the brake pedal to the wheel carriage had broken. He frantically tried to use the emergency brake, and to mesh the gears, but the truck just kept bounding along, swaying from left to right, going faster and faster. At any moment they could fail to round one of the hairpin turns and tumble down the escarpment. Gigino gripped the steering wheel hard, as he desperately tried to keep his vehicle on the roadway.
While his co-worker could only scream and curse, Gigino began to earnestly and fervently pray to all the saints of Paradise! They tried jumping out of the careening truck, but were afraid because of its great velocity. As they barreled down towards the next sharp turn, all at once a very intense perfume of roses penetrated the driver's cab. The aroma was so strong and instantaneous that they could only breathe with difficulty. It was the sign of Padre Pio's spiritual presence, and it seemed to suffocate them. Seconds later the speeding truck abruptly halted, amid the sound of a violent crash. It had smashed into the trunk of a giant olive tree that stood right on the edge of the curve.
|Road down the Gargano Mountain. Google satellite view.|
“I have no image in my mind of the actual impact, we seemed to be enveloped by a protective cloud. I only recall that after some minutes had passed, we realized that we were uninjured.” Gigino and his companion crawled out from the twisted and smoking wreck. Neither man had a scratch on them nor any other effects or bruises from the impact. They looked out on an incredible scene – at the apex of the hairpin turn, the olive tree overlooked a steep ravine. If they had gone over that cliff in the truck, not even their bones would have been found. If the tree were located half a meter to the left or to the right of the precipice, their lives would have been over. “Right below the driver's cab, through which the branches of the tree now protruded, we could see the wide, deep valley below. In sum, it was a miracle we were alive!”
But Gigino's special connection with Padre Pio did not end there. Oddly enough, exactly one year later he was on that same road, running the same delivery route, but this time of course in a new truck. It was raining cats and dogs, and was already dark out. He had come to the curve where he had his fortunate escape, and had just passed that same olive tree, when he saw a broken down car at the edge of the road. He saw the driver working a tire iron in the pouring rain, trying to change a flat tire. Gigino, aware of the great grace he had received at this very spot, knew that it was his duty to help out this poor man and vehicle stuck here in the cloudburst. He stopped his truck, and as he came near the auto, he saw that it bore a license plate with the letters “SCV,” Stato della Citta del Vaticano, and he noticed bishop's colors on the vestments of the passenger inside. This was the car of His Excellency Karol Wojtyla, Auxiliary Bishop of Kracow, Poland, and Titular Bishop of OMBI.
It was 1964 and the Vatican Council was going full tilt. Mary Pyle, who lived practically adjacent to Padre Pio's friary, has remarked that “So many bishops from the ecumenical council came up to see Padre Pio that sometimes it seems that the Council is at San Giovanni Rotondo!” So such a private visit would not be unusual, and in the case of Bishop Wojtyla, there was a special reason for him to want to see Padre Pio and thank him in person. Two years previously the bishop had written him asking for prayers for his good friend Dr. Wanda Poltawska, who was scheduled to be operated on for late stage cancer. When it was time for the operation, the doctors were astonished to find that the tumor had disappeared.
Gigino helped change the tire, and saw to it that the car and its passenger were safely on its journey. Little could he have known, or even remotely imagined at the time, that he had helped the future Vicar of Christ, John Paul II, who would be the very pope to canonize Padre Pio.
This post is based on an account in I Miracoli che Hanno Fatto Santo Padre Pio, by Enrico Malatesta, pp. 176-179. Additional information from Padre Pio the True Story by C. Bernard Ruffin, pp. 360-361.
See my Catholic Books on Padre Pio and others Here.