Thursday, September 20, 2018

When Photos of Padre Pio Came up Blank

In some of the classic biographies of Padre Pio an unusual phenomenon is reported when visitors, pilgrims, or souvenir hunters tried to take his photo: they came up blank. Not always, but there are specific incidents when this was true. John McCaffery recounts one such story in his book, The Friar of San Giovanni. During the hot summer months, Padre Pio would occasionally offer Mass outdoors under a portico near the old church. McCaffery was slated to be a server at one of these ceremonies, and his friend Gino was determined to capture the event for posterity. He commissioned a local professional photographer to record the rite, this in spite of the fact that it was well known that Padre Pio was not amenable to being photographed or filmed, especially during his Mass.

As Padre Pio was approaching the outdoor altar, he noticed the photographer and his camera, and told him that he was to take only one or two photos at the Mass – and the man agreed. The photos were to be ready that afternoon, and McCaffery and Gino eagerly went over to see what the photographer had captured. He was not there, but his sister was, and she informed them that there was nothing to see. Her brother, she said, had tried to be too smart. He had agreed to Padre Pio's conditions, but during the Mass he could not restrain himself, and ended up shooting two complete rolls of film. “They all came out blank.” She looked at the two disappointed and irate men as if to say “What else could you expect?”

Later that evening McCaffery told the story to Padre Pio's good friend Dr. Sanguinetti, who was instrumental in the founding of Padre Pio's hospital. The Doctor replied that the exact same thing had happened to him – two rolls of film with nothing on them!

Mary Pyle was an American heiress who renounced the material life in order to live near Padre Pio, as a Third Order Franciscan. Interviewed in the 1950's for Maria Winowska's The True Face of Padre Pio, Pyle discussed the strange anomaly of the blank photos. She said that for years photographers had been frustrated in their efforts to photograph the saint, sometimes even creeping up on him to take him by surprise, but the negatives always came up blank. On the same roll, there could be magnificent views of landscapes, but on the photos of Padre Pio, there was nothing. Sometimes the shutter refused to move. But pilgrims had such great desire to have a picture of Padre Pio as a souvenir, that “his superiors ordered him to abandon his feud with the cameras.” Pyle commented that as a result, “the pictures you will see have been taken quite recently.” She added that many years of his life have been irreparably lost to photographers. If it had not been for the ecclesiastical authorities, we should not even have these!

A more recent book, L'Ultimo Segreto di Padre Pio, by journalist Enrico Malatesta, uncovers an intriguing new dimension to this phenomenon.

Mario De Renzis was a photo-journalist for Il Tempo, one of the major daily newspapers of Rome. It was 1960, and at that time the national press was focusing on the stigmatized friar from San Giovanni Rotondo. In an era becoming saturated with materialism, the example given by the humble servant of God constituted a ray of hope for the darkness of modern society. Consequently Mario's editors at Il Tempo gave him the assignment to report on and photograph the friary, the crowds, and the beloved friar himself. 

The little town of San Giovanni had been portrayed in the media as mecca for those on summer holiday, with tourists regarded as a great source of income. When he arrived at San Giovanni for the first time, he made a quick tour of the area, admiring the church of St. Mary of the Graces, the new hospital “Home for the Relief of Suffering,” and noting the many shops and the movements of the people. But when he proceeded to enter the church he was stopped by the ushers, and told that photographers could not be admitted – this would mean the failure of his entire assignment. Fortunately just at that time a number of buses pulled up, and as the pilgrims disembarked and made their way into the church, De Renzis fell in with them, and in this way he slipped inside. Padre Pio was on the altar, and the photographer discretely and with dexterity began to snap his pictures. But he was soon spotted, and the ushers clamored like it was the end of the world. In the ensuring confusion, he made straight for an an exit, and found himself in the garden of the convent.

Noticing a staircase, he clambered up it, entering a little corridor, which led to an open door. It was the entrance to the cell of Padre Pio. In spite of the fact that he had photographed him only a few minutes ago in the church, there he was in flesh and blood, in his room. How was this possible? A healthy person would need at least 15 minutes to get there, and Padre Pio with his painful wounds could only shuffle along slowly. At the time, De Renzis thought no more about it, now that he was in the presence of the saint. He and the Padre “exchanged what is now called in the liturgy the sign of peace,” and they shook hands. With his permission, he took a number of pictures of Padre Pio in his cell. The emotions and surprise of this encounter were so strong at the time that the photographer did not fully comprehend what had actually occurred. Padre Pio, the stigmatized priest, had clasped his hand in his own, without any hesitation and minimal discomfort – how could this greeting be possible with a painful and bloody wound in his palm?

As he left the friar's cell, he thought of the marvel that everyone was talking about – bilocation. In view of Padre Pio's extraordinary capabilities, he concluded that he had not been in the presence of the body of Padre Pio, but of his soul, his essence. And physical, bodily pain does not pertain to the soul, which is why Padre Pio was able to “tranquilly shake his hand.” His photography assignment accomplished, De Renzis visited the local shops to obtain some souvenirs, before returning to Rome.

At the offices of his newspaper, he developed his photos, and they turned out beautiful: Padre Pio celebrating Mass, the moment of Communion, the great crowds. As for the pictures taken with Padre Pio in his cell, they showed the room clearly, except for one strange thing – there was no Padre Pio visible in the photos! But his assignment at San Giovanni Rotondo was a great overall success, and the newspaper Il Tempo sold out at the newsstands. 

He never told anyone about what had happened – this particular event was something for him alone, a personal experience of his soul. Even now [around 30 years later] he is filled with nostalgia in thinking about his encounter with the holy friar. Padre Pio, with his extraordinary capabilities, helped him to obtain great satisfaction in his professional field, but much more so in the spiritual. “Now I can say it with greater clarity, my soul is filled with strong emotions that, at the mere memory of the encounter, still make my heart throb.”

Thanks to John McCaffery, The Friar of San Giovanni, p. 39; Maria Winowska, The True Face of Padre Pio, p. 50, Enrico Malatesta, L'Ultimo Segreto di Padre Pio, pp. 248-251.

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Monday, September 10, 2018

The Cure that Should Not Be

After a terrible accident, he was unable to bend his left knee, until he knelt in Padre Pio's confessional. But after the miraculous cure, the medical impediment to bending his knee still existed!

This is an example of a cure which should not be. Giuseppe Canaponi suffered from fibrous ankylosis, the stiffening of the knee due to the presence of fibrous bands around the bones forming the joint, and his left leg was completely rigid. The clinical examinations and tests after the cure showed that the physical condition which caused the infirmity continued to persist. There are many reports of the miraculous cure of Mr. Canaponi in the Padre Pio literature, and they differ in some of the particulars. Therefore, I have written the following from the earliest account I have been able to discover.

It is from an interview with journalist Carlo Trabucco, published May 17, 1951 in a Catholic newspaper of Bologna. He interviewed the railroad worker Giuseppe Canaponi at San Giovanni Rotondo, near Padre Pio's friary. He describes Giuseppe as 38 years old, of average height, with a smiling and pleasing face. At first he was a little embarrassed to tell his story, and did not know how to begin.

Canaponi: “You see how I am walking?”
Trabucco: “I see it.”
Canaponi: “Do you know where I am from?”
Trabucco: “Tuscany, no doubt.”
Canaponi: “Have you heard about it?”
Trabucco: “A little.”
Trabucco writes: This was just small talk, while he sought to gather his thoughts and present them in a certain order.

Canaponi: “I want to tell you about my adventure. You see this left leg? Three years ago it was a rigid stump, and now it is like a new leg. I received it anew back there, in the sacristy. How it happened I don't know. It is necessary that I explain to you how I recovered this left leg, but first let me tell you how I lost it. At Sarteano, my home town that is near Chiusi, a truck on June 26, 1946, broke the femur of my left leg.”

Trabucco writes: Saying this, he rolled up his trousers and showed me scars that provoked horror.

Canaponi: “I made the rounds of the hospitals in the area, Sarteano, Chiusi, Montepulciano, Siena and then Rizzoli in Bologna. It was useless. The conclusion you can read here in this original declaration of a hospital release in April, 1951. Here is what it says: 'This is to certify that Mr. Giuseppe Canaponi was hospitalized in this clinic in 1948 for anchilosi rifrosa [stiffness, rigidity] of his left knee due to a fracture of the femur. All the therapies, medical and physical, that were tried in order to force articulation under general anesthesia, did not work. Instead, these maneuvers succeeded in re-fracturing the femur. He was dismissed with his knee as rigid as it was upon his admittance.' Signed by the Director, Giuntini. “Have you read this? Did you understand?”

Trabucco: “I believe so. Knee is rigid, that is, it cannot be bent. And now I see that you can walk.”

Canaponi: “Walk? I run, I jump . . . you are looking at a person reborn. Before, I could not take it anymore. I blasphemed, cursed
my wife did not know what to do. I had some scary crises, during which I became like a beast. Then I would calm down and repent, until the next time. The leg caused me tremendous torture. Enduring great pain, I could take only a few steps using two crutches. My wife wanted me to go see Padre Pio. But I rebelled, and inveighed against him, but not knowing what else to do I relented. I went to see him accompanied by my wife and my son. In my condition it was not a pleasant journey.

“On the afternoon of December 28, 1948 I was in the sacristy for my confession to Padre Pio. He said to me: “You blaspheme much, you curse everyone, you are restless.” I replied, “Yes Padre, it is true. It was the sufferings, the long illness, the injections that had changed me.” The Padre went on: “However, afterwards you repented, went into your room and prayed.” I said to myself, “This is strange, he knows everything, he is telling me my confession. I said, “Padre, pray that the Lord removes from me this brutal defect.” He replied, “You must be a strong person, otherwise it would be useless for the Lord to give you the grace.”

“Only in that moment did I realize that I was kneeling down, and I said to myself that I have already received the grace because I have bent my knee that for three years has been immobile! I rose up, taking my crutches, and instead of using them to support me, I carried them in my arms. With my son I went into the church where my wife looked at me with amazement upon seeing me walk. “Yes, it is true,” I said. “It seems to me that in the sacristy I had even knelt.” My wife did not want to believe this, and my son said, “Yes, Papa, I saw it, you were on your knees.”

As if dreaming we returned to the hotel, and in the room I took a pillow, laid it on the floor, and went down on my knees. It was true. It was true. The next morning I went to Padre Pio to thank him for the grace, but he told me: “It was not I who gave you the grace. Thank the Lord, only the Lord.”

Trabucco writes: And that was the “adventure” of Giuseppe Canaponi. Then I asked him “And the doctors?”

Canaponi: “When I returned to Sarteano everyone was astonished, friends and enemies. The curious thing is that this grace caused enmity among some who were my friends. Meanwhile the railroad was going on with the process to have me discharged and sent home. In order to stop the proceedings, I asked for a visit at Florence from the Railroad Inspector. It was granted and I made known to professor Prosperi what had happened. He read and re-read what was in the hospital records and exclaimed that according to these documents, I would never be able to bend my knee. I told him that for me it is otherwise. He said that he sees it, and I am correct and not the records, because I can walk. Therefore, I remained working at the railroad and returned to my usual post at the station in Chiusi. Now, every time that I can, I travel to San Giovanni Rotondo, because here is where I recovered my health and my peace of soul.”

In a further interview, years later, conducted by Renzo Allegri, Canaponi said that when he and his family arrived back home in Sarteano, it was New Years Eve. There was a celebration and dance at a local venue, and he and his wife decided to attend. When he entered, walking normally, the room became quiet as a tomb. Everyone had known about his condition, and that he could not take a step on his own, and they also knew that he had been to see Padre Pio. The people from that area were almost all communists, thus they were not open to believing in miracles. Seeing that he was cured, they were embarrassed. But he embraced his wife, and they began to dance. Everyone stepped aside, but then after a few minutes the people began to applaud. They danced for over two hours.

In the following days, he returned to the clinic at Siena, and the doctors were astonished. First of all, just in seeing him walk. And then, because the x-rays of his knee showed that nothing had changed. The anchilosi rifrosa was still present, and they said that it is not possible that he could be walking. Later, Professor Giuntini presented his case in Rome at a medical congress. There Canaponi was examined by various specialists, who marveled at his case.

Ultimately, Giuntini released a formal document, stamped and signed “University of Siena, Orthopedic Clinic, Director Leopoldo Giuntini.” The last sentence reads “We therefore have reason to believe that the sudden recovery of the articular movement, in the case of Mr. Canaponi, constitutes an extraordinary event that can not find, within the limits of current scientific knowledge, a logical explanation.”

Before seeing Padre Pio, Giuseppe had been declared a permanent invalid. Since the physical cause of his disability was still present even after the miracle, the doctors continue to confirm his status as an invalid. “Even today, for science and for the state, I am an invalid: I cannot walk; and yet, as you see, I walk in a perfect manner.”

Trabucco interview taken from F. Chiocci and L. Cirri, Padre Pio Storia D'una Vittima, pp. 667-669.  Also, Renzo Allegri, Padre Pio Il Santo de Miracoli, pp. 344-349.

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Monday, September 3, 2018

He shuffled there on his stigmatized feet.

The night Padre Pio left his monastery and walked to the home of a dying man.

Dr. Francesco Ricciardi, a practicing physician for many years at San Giovanni Rotondo, had always manifested a certain aversion towards Padre Pio. The doctor was a man with a very frank and sincere character, honest to the point of being scrupulous. A tireless scholar, he thought his studies could not admit of the supernatural. God was a utopia. Padre Pio was a conventionalism created only for the ignorant; science, only it, was an infallible dogma, and only in that did he believe.

He supported the attacks that Padre Pio's own archbishop, Mons. Pasquale Gagliardi, launched against him. He freely took part in the petty meetings that were organized in the town in order to express disapproval of the work of the priests, and to defame the very person of the humble friar, often also to launch insults and blasphemies in his direction. And the good priest of God, although knowing all about it, never spoke one word of blame against the wickedness that so cruelly offended him in the most noble of his prerogatives – the priesthood.

Ricciardi had not approached the confessional in thirty years, and had never desired to bow down his white-haired pate before an image of Christ or the Virgin Mary. But the “Dies irae” would arrive even for him. Padre Pio would be there at the gate, not in order to punish, nor to reprimand, but to bestow instead the holiest and unexpected of conversions.

In the fall of 1928, the doctor fell sick. A terrible disease had undermined his very existence, and it was so serious that it seemed to be carrying him to the tomb. It was stomach cancer, causing his strong constitution to wither from day to day. His doctor, Francesco Giuva, assisted by colleagues Dr. Angelo Maria Merla, Dr. Tomasso Morcaldi, Dr. Capuano Matteo, Dr. Antonio Mauricelli, were all of the opinion that he would die.

I am dying, Giuva,” murmured the patient, “It is finished.”

From Foggia, Naples and many parts, the doctors arrived at San Giovanni Rotondo, and each could do nothing but confirm the diagnosis of their colleagues; only Dr. Merla thought that instead of stomach cancer it might be acute gastritis [gastrite flemmonosa.] All treatments were attempted, including radiation, but nothing availed to stop the disease. Dr. Ricciardi was dying little by little.

Numerous priests alternately approached him, all presenting to him thoughts of peace, of love, of repentance. But he refused them all, affirming that he intended to die as he had lived. A friend of the family thought of Padre Pio. “Only he, only he,” she said, “can work a miracle.”

In December, Don Giuseppe Principe, parish priest of the town, who was the doctor's personal friend, was called to administer the last rites, while the patient was still conscious. But as soon as he saw the priest he chased him away with unheard-of fury, saying, “I do not want a priest, I don't want anyone.” He even threw a slipper at him from his bedside. In a moment of exasperation he shouted at the unfortunate man, “No one can hear my confession, only Padre Pio, whom I have so much offended, could I confess to today. But he can not come over here, and so I prefer to die as I am.”

Outside the wind howled frightfully, a heavy sleet penetrated the clothing, chilling even the hearts of the good countrymen who were gathering near his home. They were already crying over the respected doctor, who so lovingly for many years had taken care of them. He was very popular, he often tended the sick for nothing, and was generous-hearted.

The end was near. The death rattle was already fading, and the body was beginning to give out the odor characteristic of death, when the doctor who rebelled against the laws of God, saw appear in the doorway the humble Franciscan friar – Padre Pio had been alerted and asked to hasten to the bed of the dying man, with pleas that he alone could give a new soul to God.

That evening a pious person had made his way to the monastery of the friar who bore the wounds of Christ, and told him what was occurring. Padre Pio wished to leave immediately, but he had to obtain permission from the Guardian, Padre Raffaele. He was at first reluctant, but he relented and even accompanied Padre Pio to the sick man's home. It had been ten years since the Padre had left the confines of the friary of St. Mary of the Graces. The superior ecclesiastical authorities, in order to avoid fanaticism, had imposed upon him certain determinate restrictions, which only had the effect of greatly increasing the flames of love for him. 

No authors give the actual location of Dr. Ricciardi's home. Maria Winowska writes it was only a “few yards” from the convent, and that Padre Pio “shuffled on his martyred feet to see the doctor.” It must have been a short distance from the monastery, perhaps down the main road from the friary, the Viale Cappuccini. Alberto Del Fante, who was the first to write about the incident, informs us that the person who went to fetch the Padre, over the resistance of Dr. Ricciardi, was Dr. Angelo Maria Merla, who at one time was also an atheist. “He told me himself in February of 1931 that instead he believes in God and is a good Catholic and spiritual son of Padre Pio.”

Notwithstanding the late hour, the bad weather, and the distance to be covered, Padre Pio “shuffled” down the road, desiring only to reach the bedside of the poor sick man. He took with him from the little Chapel of Santa Maria delle Grazie, a consecrated Host and holy oils, and along with these two precious helps from heaven, was Padre Raffaele. As he approached the house, he was recognized by passers-by, who gathered around him and accompanied him to the place where Dr. Ricciardi lived, joining those that were already in front of the home praying for his conversion and healing.

While Padre Pio continued towards the bedside of the sick man, the growing crowd of people who had heard of what was happening began kneeling along the roadway by the house, now lovingly visited by Lord present in the Host. They were crying and praying prayers of peace, consolation, and love. All the while, large flakes of snow were falling, as some manna from heaven coming to bless the auspicious event that was to take place in the humble room of the dying man.

Padre Pio reached the bedside of Ricciardi, and embraced him with a smile, as proof of his forgiveness. As soon as the doctor saw the priest, he seemed to experience an infinite wellbeing. The atheist was conquered. The atheist bowed that head which he had never bowed, the atheist joined his hands, made the sign of the cross, and after confessing, received the Holy Eucharist and Extreme Unction from the stigmatized hands of the Padre of Pietrelcina. God entered into him, God, who can not abandon and does not abandon. The smell of death was overcome by the perfume that emanated from Padre Pio, the impure soul became pure, and the lips that for thirty years only spoke empty words, were now thanking God.

Rev. Bernard Ruffin reports that he whispered to Padre Pio saying, “Father bless me one more time. There is no more hope for me, and in a little while I will be dead, and so I want to leave the world with your pardon and another blessing from you.” But the good Padre responded: “Your soul is healed, and soon your body will be healed as well. You will go to the friary and repay the visit that I have made this evening.”

After having once again kissed and blessed him, the Padre left the house in order to walk back to his friary.

Outside of the home of the doctor, the people, defying the wind and snow, waited for the miracle. And the miracle arrived! Padre Pio once again chased away death and gave to the Divine Lord a new soul. Dr. Ricciardi survived, happy to have found the light, the spiritual light, that illuminated his white hairs. All signs of the cancer were gone in three days, and Dr. Ricciardi did in fact come to the friary church to thank God and Padre Pio.

The renowned doctor, in that unforgettable day, after his close contact with the humble herald of heaven, was cured of a very serious double infirmity: that of his soul, because from that moment onward he continued to live devoted and thankful to the one who was so good to him – and that of his body, because he was cured of his physical malady. He was able live for almost another four years, doing good works and most importantly thanking the Lord, who had forgotten the affronts He had received, and had given him back both spiritual and material life. He died in June of 1932 at the age of 71.

This was perhaps, according to Dr. Giorgio Festa, the one and only time Padre Pio, driven by love and the desire to do good, left his sanctuary of peace and prayer. [Other than to vote.] Dr. Festa reported that those who had been present at the event, in remembering what had occurred as they told him about it, had tears in their eyes from the intense emotion that had reawakened in their hearts.

Comment of Alberto Del Fante: “Almost all of these doctors mentioned are still alive. I do not cite facts from Mr. X or Mr. Y, but facts verifiable by all who desire to touch with their hands or see with their eyes, or hear with their own ears.” He quotes the Gospel of St. John (3: 20-21). “For every one that doth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, that his works may not be reproved. But he that doth truth, cometh to the light, that his works may be made manifest, because they are done in God.”

Translated freely from two historical sources for Padre Pio: Alberto Del Fante, Per La Storia VI Edition, 1948 pp. 312-314; and Dr. Giorgio Festa, Misteri di Scienza e Luci di Fede, 1949 pp. 244-246; Also C. Bernard Ruffin Padre Pio the True Story, 1991 pp. 224-226, 340; and Maria Winowska, The True Face of Padre Pio, 1955, pp. 140-141. 

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