By Michael H. Brown
Soon-To-Be Saint Padre Pio Was Study In Most Inexplicable Of Gifts: Bilocation
Blessed Padre Pio of Pietrelcina — who will burst on the scene as one of history’s great saints after his canonization Sunday — was known for many phenomena, none more mysterious than his seeming ability to appear in two places simultaneously.
This is called “bilocation,” and it’s a mystical gift that is truly unfathomable. How can a physical object — the body — be in two separate locations? Is it the person’s spirit they see — the “prolongation” of a personality? Or is it simply an angel manifesting in the visage of the person who sent him?
These are questions that, at least for now, must go unanswered. What we can say is that it’s a phenomenon that has been reported with saints such as Anthony of Padua and Alphonsus Liguori. More recently, we have spoken with witnesses who have testified to the bilocations of Maria Esperanza, the great Venezuelan mystic.
With Padre Pio the examples were extraordinary. He was seen by a man lost on the Sahara desert who was then led to safety by the mysterious stranger (after this man’s mother had sought Padre Pio’s aid). He was witnessed, or so they say, in the U.S., in Hawaii. He was reported in Siberia. There are those, including bishops, who say he was spotted at the Vatican itself (appearing to Pope Pius XI during a crisis moment, when an archbishop was trying to defrock him), and also at the canonization of St. Therese the Little Flower in 1925.
“It is well to note that from 1918 onward, Padre Pio never left San Giovanni Rotundo, so that these mysterious occurrences cannot be explained through the assumption that Padre Pio was actually there in person,” notes biographer Bernard Ruffin, who wrote a classic history of the astonishing Franciscan — around whom swirled more mysticism than anyone since St. Francis of Assisi. There was even physical evidence of his manifestations. Such occurred in 1957, when Pio appeared at the bedside of another priest, Padre Placido Bux, who was hospitalized with severe hepatic cirrhosis.
“One night Padre Placido saw Padre Pio next to his bed, and he spoke to him, exhorting him to have patience, comforting him and reassuring him of his recovery,” wrote another biographer, Padre Alberto D’Apolito, who knew Padre Pio. “Then he saw Padre Pio approach the window of the [hospital] room, place a hand on the glass, and disappear. On awakening in the morning, he felt better and remembering the very welcome visit, he looked towards the window. To his surprise, he saw the imprint of a hand on the window. He got up from bed and approached the window to closely examine and identify the print: he recognized the imprint of the hand of Padre Pio.”
More incredibly, when personnel attempted to clean the window with a wet cloth dipped in detergent, “the imprint always reappeared.”
During his bilocations, Pio was often seen in a nearly comatose state. Such was the case in 1953 when the priest, joining other monks for a concert in an adjoining hall, “placed his arms on the back of the chair in front of him and rested his head on them, remaining silent and motionless,” according to another witness, Padre Carmelo of Sessano. This occurred for a period of about five minutes, then Padre Pio rejoined the group.
“The next day, Padre Carmelo went to visit a sick man and was amazed when [the sick man] expressed his appreciation for permitting Padre Pio to call on him the previous evening,” writes Ruffin. “Carmelo, of course, knew very well that Padre Pio was at the concert all evening and had gone straight to the friary when it was over.”
In yet another case, Monsignor Fernando Damiani, vicar of Salto, Uruguay, asked for Padre Pio’s help with such a severe coronary condition that he had come to Italy to die near the famous monk. Pio told him he was not yet ready to die and that, when it was his time, it would be in his homeland of Uruguay. Furthermore, said Pio, “I promise to see to it that you are well assisted spiritually.”
In 1941, during a congress on vocations that had brought several bishops to Salto, one of them, Archbishop Maria Barbieri of Montevideo, was retiring in his room when he heard a strange knock on his door. The hall was dark but there he saw the form of a Capuchin monk — who told him to go see Monsignor Damiani because Damiani was dying.
Archishop Barbieri did just that and found Damiani writhing in pain and dying. Barbieri administered last rites while three other bishops and six priests rushed to the scene — such that Damiani was surrounded by a total of four bishops and six other priests when he expired — the “help” Pio had promised!
Several witnesses claimed that they saw Padre Pio at the tomb of St. Pius X. In fact he was seen in the crypt on at least five occasions. During the beatification of St. Therese the Little Flower, a prelate went to approach him when he “saw” the monk in St. Peter’s Basilica — but as he got close, Padre Pio vanished.
“Externally, the condition of Padre Pio’s ecstasy was the same as though he were asleep,” wrote Father Charles Mortimer Carty, another biographer. “The members of his body were numb to all external influences.” Pio himself was the one who described bilocation as a “prolongation” or “extension” of his personality. “I only know that it is God Who sends me,” replied Padre Pio when questioned about it. “I do not know whether I am there with my soul or body, or both of them.”
In one case, a pious young girl of 14 named Emma Meneghello, who suffered epilepsy, testified that while in prayer Padre Pio appeared to her, placed his hand on her bed sheet, smiled, and vanished. The cured girl then arose to kiss the place where Pio had placed his hand and noticed a cross of blood on the sheet (this stain has been preserved).
Perhaps most remarkable was the testimony of a woman named Madre Speranza who worked at the Vatican and claimed to have seen Pio in Rome on a number of occasions. “I saw him in the Holy Office every day for an entire year,” she testified. “He wore half-gloves to conceal his wounds. I would greet him, kiss his hand, and sometimes, I would speak to him and he would reply.”
At the same time (1937 to 1939), Meneghello claimed to have encountered “a mysterious personage with a white beard who would arrive from Milan by plane; he was ugly and made me tremble with fear. Just the sight of him would fill me with great fear, and I wanted to escape. He seemed to me to be the devil.”
What was he doing at the Holy Office?
“He went to testify against Padre Pio,” said the holy woman — this at a time when Padre Pio was under much persecution.
Such attempts, of course, failed — and so one of history greatest and most mysterious men will become St. Pio on Sunday.
Father D’Apolito said even Padre Pio didn’t understand the phenomena that surrounded him. “I recognize,” he quoted the monk as saying, “that I am a mystery to myself.”
“Under whatever aspect I observed or studied him,” added D’Apolito, “I was more and more convinced that I understood nothing about him.”