Friday, December 21, 2018

Christmas Wishes from Padre Pio's Letters.

Stay very close to the crib of this gentle Child, especially during these holy days of his birth. If you love wealth, here you will find the gold the Magi left him; if you love the smoke of honor, you will find that of the incense; and if you love the delicacy of the senses, you will smell the perfumed myrrh which perfumes the entire holy stable. Have a great love of this heavenly infant. [P. 350, V. 3]

Ah! My dear daughter who cannot see the dear little Infant of Bethlehem in the event for which we are preparing? Who does not see his incomparable love for souls? He comes to die in order to save, and he is so humble, sweet and lovable. Live joyfully and courageously, at least in the upper part of the soul, amidst the trials in which the Lord places you. Live joyfully and courageously I repeat, because the Angel who foretells the birth of our little Saviour and Lord, announces singing, and sings announcing that he brings tidings of joy, peace, and happiness to men of good will. So that there is nobody who does not know that in order to receive this child, it is sufficient to be of good will. [P. 470, V. 3]
Tell me, my dear daughters, you know well that at the birth of our Lord, the shepherds heard the divine and angelic singing of the heavenly spirits. Scripture tells us this, but it does not say that the Virgin his mother, and St. Joseph, who were closest to the infant, heard the voices of the angels or saw those miraculous splendors. On the contrary, instead of hearing the angels singing, they heard the Child crying, and saw by the light of a poor lamp, the eyes of this divine infant all wet with tears and trembling with cold. Now, I ask you, wouldn't you have chosen to be in that dark stable filled with the cries of the little Child, rather than be beside yourself with joy with the shepherds at this sweet heavenly melody, and the beauty of this admirable splendor? [P. 569, V. 3]

May the infant Jesus always reign in your heart, and may he establish and consolidate his reign within you more and more. This and other prayers were my presents to the Child of Bethlehem during these days, for you. Our Lord loves you my daughter, and he loves you tenderly. And if he doesn't let you feel the sweetness of this love, he does this in order to render you more humble and abject in your own eyes. Do not neglect to turn to his holy goodness with every confidence - particularly at a time during which we represent him as a small Babe in Bethlehem. Because, my daughter, why does he assume this sweet and lovable condition, If not in order to provoke our loving him with confidence, and to confide lovingly in him? [P. 766. V 3]
At the opening of the sacred novena in honor of the holy Child Jesus I felt my soul being born, as it were, to a new life. My heart felt too small to contain the heavenly favors and my soul seemed to disintegrate in the presence of this God who took human flesh for our sake. How can we help loving Him more and more ardently? Oh, let us draw near to the Child Jesus with hearts free from sin, that we may discover how sweet and delightful it is to love him. I will never fail to pray to this divine Child for all men, and much more will I pray during these holy days. I will pray especially for you and for all those whom you have so much at heart. I will ask him to give you a share of those charisms he has poured out and continues to pour all the time into my own soul. [P. 288, V. 2]

 When the most pure shell put forth the divine pearl, when the powerful Mediatrix of men gave us our Redeemer during the holy Christmas feasts, I meditated on the straw on which the Infant God was laid, the straw from which I saw burst forth the golden ears which matured and were then transubstantiated in the bread of heaven, the heavenly bread of which I have been deprived for so many days. [P 331, V. 2]

Dear God! I cannot describe to you, my dear Father [Fr. Agostino, his spiritual director ], all that I felt in my heart on that most happy night. My heart seemed to overflow with a holy love for our God become man. The night of the soul continued even at that moment, but I can tell you that in the midst of such pitch darkness, I was surfeited with spiritual joy. Many, many times my thoughts traveled from the Child to you and from you to him. I am unable to tell you all that happened to me during this night, the whole of which I spent on my feet without closing an eye. May God be pleased to hear the prayers I sent up for you and which I go on repeating before the grotto of Bethlehem. [P. 1095, V. 1]

[To his mother] Dearest mother, Christmas is nigh and I do not want it to go by without expressing to you my thoughts and gratitude, that I cherish for you, who has been and is now every hour the person dearest to me, and who took such care and diligence for my good education. In this day so beautiful I do not want to neglect on my part to raise fervent vows to the divine Infant, so that he will cause to descend on you and the entire family the most elect of his benedictions in this life and holy paradise in the next life. [P. 944, V. 4, my translation from the Italian.]

From the four volumes of the Letters of Padre Pio; Vols. 1, 2 and 3 available in English from booksellers; Vol. 4 is only in Italian.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2018

She received two miraculous cures from Padre Pio

Maria Pennisi of Pietrelcina was attending the college of the Ursulines in Benevento. It was 1922, and from the start of that school year she had not been feeling well. She was tormented by constant coughing and difficulty in breathing, and had no appetite. She was also suffering from intense pains in her right shoulder. When her parents came to the school to visit her and realized the condition she was in, they pulled her out of the college and sent her to live with her aunt in the hills of Avellino, hoping that breathing the fresh mountain air would help her.

But this change of venue failed to restore her health. Consequently her father, Carmine, took Maria to Naples to be examined by one of the more renowned physicians of that time, Dr. Castronuovo. He diagnosed that Maria was in the advanced stages of tuberculosis, with little hope of a recovery. She might die before the end of the year. Terrorized by this appalling news, Carmine took Maria to see the esteemed Dr. Giuseppe Moscati, now a canonized saint of the Church. Moscati confirmed the prior diagnosis, stating that the medical knowledge of the time could do nothing to save her.
St. Giuseppi Moscati
Carmine and Maria returned to Pietrelcina, and in the weeks that followed, her condition continued to worsen. In his desperation, Carmine began to think of Padre Pio. Although now a monk in San Giovanni Rotondo, he had been born in Pietrelcina. “He is our countryman,” Carmine thought to himself. “He has cured so many people, why should he not be able to cure my daughter?” Thus, along with some family members, Carmine and Maria traveled to San Giovanni to ask Padre Pio for the grace of a healing.

Although from Pietrelcina, Padre Pio did not know Maria and had never met her father, since Carmine had emigrated to America during much of the time the Padre was residing in that city. Yet, even though he had not seen her before, when Padre Pio first encountered her he said: “You are Maria Pennisi. You are feeling sick? You are mistaken, you are are healthier than I am. Your lungs are of steel!” Carmine, when he heard this, objected. “Padre, my daughter is very ill. The doctors say her case is hopeless. You are a saint, you alone can save her!” Padre Pio became more serious. He looked at Maria and then told Carmine, “Don't worry about this, I will take care of it.”

The very next day Maria began to feel better. She wanted to go up the hill to the monastery on foot. Carmine accompanied her, and marveled in seeing that she did not tire from the climb. Every morning thereafter, Maria arose early and walked to the church to attend Padre Pio's Mass. In about a week's time, her coughing had almost come to a halt, she was no longer bringing up any blood, and the pain in her right shoulder was completely gone.

Her dad Carmine was overjoyed. He decided that they could return home to Pietrelcina. He had some outstanding business affairs that required his attention, and he wanted Maria to resume her studies with the Ursulines. He went to the friary to thank Padre Pio, and to inform him that they were leaving. But the Padre replied, “Your daughter should not go back to school until after the holidays. If you must return to Pietrelcina, do so, but Maria needs to stay here a little longer.” Carmine objected: “But Padre, you are a saint, you can protect Maria even from afar.” Padre Pio answered, “No, your daughter will be fine if she remains here. Remember that the eye of the master fattens the horse.” [Italian proverb meaning that a business thrives when the owner himself – in this case Padre Pio - personally oversees it.]

Carmine Pennisi paid no attention to the advice of Padre Pio. He returned to Pietrelcina with Maria, and had her resume her studies. But after only a few days back at school, she fell ill again. This time the doctors diagnosed it as a case of pleurisy. When Padre Pio was later informed, he said, “I told them. If she had stayed in San Giovanni she would not have fallen sick.” Her case became very serious, with a fever of 104, and she began to grow weaker with each passing day.
Blood-stained relic cloth. Padre Pio Foundation
Then one evening in early January of 1923, Maria received a visitor. It was a woman who had just returned from San Giovanni Rotondo. She was a spiritual child of of Padre Pio, and brought several items associated with him to keep as relics. She offered to rub the chest of Maria with a piece of cloth that was stained with blood from the Padre's stigmata. Maria's parents gave their consent. Almost as soon as the relic touched her, she began to feel better, and then she dozed off for about an hour. When she awoke her temperature was taken – it was now 98.6 degrees! Maria confidently concluded, “It was Padre Pio.”

The next day Doctor Andrea Cardone came to check on Maria, and when he saw that the temperature was completely normal, he was convinced that the thermometer was broken. He used another one, and it too read 98.6 degrees. “Impossible!” said Cardone, who had been Padre Pio's doctor in Pietrelcina for many years. He then subjected Maria to a meticulous battery of respiratory tests, but could find nothing amiss. There was no longer any trace of the pleurisy; Maria was completely cured.

Her father Carmine went to see Padre Pio to tell him the good news, and to ask if Maria could now return to school. “You must wait another twelve days,” said the Padre. And this time, Carmine knew enough to follow Padre Pio's advice. Maria did return to school after that short wait, and was able to finish out the school year. All told, she had missed 53 school days because of her two illnesses, and yet she finished first in her class! When she returned to San Giovanni to personally thank Padre Pio, he replied, “Give thanks to the Lord, who has stopped your coughing and cured you again this time. You must give thanks to Him and to no one else.”

Postscript: Letters exist which Padre Pio personally wrote to Carmine Pennisi and to Maria. There is one to Carmine and there are three to Maria. They date from May 1922 to February 1923, just prior to the time Padre Pio was ordered by the Holy Office in Rome to no longer write any letters. The letter to Maria dated February 7, 1923 was written to her while she was recovering from her attack of pleurisy. It reads, in my own unofficial translation:

“Dearest Marietta, May Jesus and Mary watch over you with benevolent eyes to render you always dearer to their hearts! I am very sorry to hear about your illness, but I thank Jesus who has quickly dealt with the malady. Strive to rest for a few more days before resuming your studies. I never cease to recommend you always to Jesus, together with all of your family. Be of good spirits and don't worry about anything. Study and always be a lover of Christian piety, living tranquilly. Best wishes to your parents, and if you happen to see any of my family [in Pietrelcina] say hello to them for me.”

Ironically, Maria herself became part of Padre Pio's extended family, by marrying into the DeNunzio's, the family of Padre Pio's mother.  Her recently deceased daughter, Graziella DeNunzio Mandato, wrote a book about Padre Pio, and her grandson Fr. Pio Mandato is a priest living in the USA.

This post is based primarily on the account in Renzo Allegri's Padre Pio Il Santo Dei Miracoli, pp. 164-167; additional information from Padre Pio Storia D'una Vittima, Vol. 1, pp. 288-290, by Francobaldo Chiocci and Luciano Cirri.

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Friday, December 7, 2018

Padre Pio and the Doubting Thomas

It was January of 1931 when Ubaldo Giovanni from Bologna read about Padre Pio for the first time. The wonders of the saint were related in a booklet written by Alberto Del Fante, who was one of the very first authors to write about the stigmatist and mystic from San Giovanni Rotondo. Ubaldo was a practicing Catholic, but was rather skeptical about some of the stories of the cures, conversions and miracles he had just read about. He placed the booklet where his father could find and read it when he returned from work. Later, when his father, Gattamorta, had finished reading it, Ubaldo asked him, “Doesn't it seem to you, dad, that these stories about Padre Pio are rather exaggerated? Personally, I am like St. Thomas, there are some things that if I do not experience them first hand, I just don't believe them. For that reason I would love to make a trip to San Giovanni Rotondo.”

And so Gattamorta, Ubaldo, his cousin Narda, and a few friends and relatives, decided to make the trip to see Padre Pio for themselves. Then with their own eyes they could see if these many tales and stories were true. Thus on the 12th of February, they departed Bologna and headed for San Giovanni Rotondo in the south of Italy. They arrived there about noon, and at about 4:00 pm went into the monastery for Confession. Afterwards, Ubaldo's father later wrote that, to be truthful, when he made his confession, Padre Pio did not make any particular impression on him, and the same was true of the other people in the group from Bologna.

The very next day, they all went to the friary again for Communion. Afterwards, when Padre Pio entered the sacristy, they went up one by one to kiss his hand. Ubaldo and the other Bolognese with him experienced a very strong and extraordinary odor of perfume when they did so. However, they marveled when Ubaldo's father Gattamorta said he had not smelled anything, even though they insisted that it was very strong. Every day during their trip, whenever they came up to Padre Pio to kiss his stigmatized hand, they could smell the same perfume. However, Gattamorta only smelled it one time, and it happened when he was in the church, but not with Padre Pio. The aroma was on his hands, and when he approached the others, they told him it was the exact same perfume that they had all experienced.

Notwithstanding the experience of the perfume, Ubaldo still retained his skepticism, while his father had no difficulty in accepting the truth about Padre Pio's sanctity. Then one day, while they were walking up the road leading to the friary, an idea flashed through Gattamorta's mind. He would pray for something to occur that would prove Padre Pio's powers even to his son. 

They reached the friary and church, and the little group knelt before the altar waiting to receive Communion, which was distributed by Padre Pio after Mass. When it was Ubaldo's turn, he held the paten in his hand. Suddenly, he turned pale and waxen like a candle, let go of the paten, and started to fall backwards. His father rushed over to him and held him tightly in his arms. Ubaldo's body seemed cold as marble, and to Gattamorta it seemed that his son had no signs of life.

Assisted by Ubaldo's cousin Narda, they brought him into the sacristy and seated him on a bench, where he remained immobile. They sprayed water on his face, and someone found some vinegar which they put under his nose, but nothing could revive him. When Padre Pio had finished his Mass and went into the sacristy, Ubaldo was still in this state. What was the Padre's reaction upon seeing him? First he smiled at him kindly and gently. Then he put his hand upon his head and lovingly caressed his head and face. At this, Ubaldo suddenly revived.

His father began to cry after witnessing his son coming to life again upon the touch of Padre Pio. Gattamorta asked him if he felt ill, but Ubaldo replied that he did not feel sick at all. He expressed a desire to receive Communion when Padre Pio returned to the chapel to distribute it, and both father and son went to receive the Holy Particle from the saint's stigmatized hand. Afterwards in the sacristy, Padre Pio once again gave a gentle caress to Ubaldo, and kissed him on the forehead.

Throughout the rest of that day, Ubaldo felt completely well. He remained so for the duration of their stay at San Giovanni Rotondo and also after their return home to Bologna. It was the first time something like this had ever happened to him, and it was also the last time. After his encounters with Padre Pio, Ubaldo became his enthusiastic admirer, and his devoted spiritual child. 

Not long after their homecoming, a telegram arrived for Ubaldo's cousin Narda, who was at that time living in the same home with Gattamorta's family. His father Giacomo, was the brother-in-law of Gattamorta. With a few words, the telegram stated that Narda's father was gravely ill and he wanted to see his son. “Giacomo grave, attendo Narda.” As soon as he read the cryptic message, Narda burst out crying, fearing that his father might be dying. Ubaldo and Narda immediately left for Ravenna to the home of the sick man. Upon seeing him, Ubaldo urgently wired Gattamorta stating that Uncle Giacomo was very sick, stricken by cerebrospinal meningitis. His condition was hopeless.

The attending doctor, a noted Ravenna physician, told the family, “I do not want to delude you, your father is more dead than alive. Speak to him now about anything you wish to tell him, because it may only be a matter of hours. There is absolutely no hope that he can survive more than four days at the most.”

But Narda had with him a picture of Padre Pio. Placing the picture under the pillow of his father, he began praying to the stigmatized friar. The very next day, the doctor returned and to his surprise found his patient sitting up in bed on his own. The physician declared, “They say that miracles are a thing of the past, but to me it seems that they still can occur!” Then after only one more day, Giacomo was able to leave his bed.

When Narda and his sisters met with the doctor to thank him, his reply was, “Do not thank me, since I have done nothing, and no other doctor could have done anything either. What happened I do not know, perhaps it was the Lord or his Mother. It is certain that, of the people in your father's condition who are hospitalized, few manage to survive, and they never fully recover. They are either blind, or deaf, or mentally incapacitated. But Giacomo regained his complete health in a few days.”

As for Giacomo, he shows the picture of Padre Pio to everyone he can, and proclaims, “My son Narda says that this is the image of the friar that cured me!”

Based on an account in Per La Storia, by Alberto Del Fante, pp. 348-352.

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