By Michael H. Brown
A Year After His Canonization Rumors, Miracles And Memories Follow Saint Pio
It’s that Padre Pio time of year. A few days ago, we celebrated the anniversary of his death. Today we’d like to take a look at a few issues around this great saint — along with certain intriguing reports that have been in circulation.
What about rumors, via e-mail, that St. Pio’s body is missing from its tomb? That it was recently opened and found to contain only his habit and sandals?
That has been the wildest rumor, and as far as we can tell, there’s no truth to that. We checked through a foundation in Connecticut devoted to the new saint, and they in turn were in consultation with the Franciscans who administer his shrine in Italy. From what we understand, the tomb has not even been opened. Rumors that his body has been shown to be incorrupt are also (at least at this point) without foundation.
But it’s understandable that there would be such spectacular rumors. He was a spectacular man. There were so much phenomena around this great mystic that just the cures alone — just the miraculous healings attached to him — are literally beyond count. The same is true of those who have reported visions, dreams, and bilocations related to the saint (who died on September 23, 1968).
Recently there was an uproar when reports over the BBC and other major networks said that blood was oozing from a statue of St. Pio in Messina, Sicily. Almost immediately, the reports were discounted and even ridiculed — seen as bufala (news without grounds) — when a woman phoned a local newspaper called the Gazzetta del Sud and said the blood had been placed on the statue as a trick by her son, who at the time was a 17-year-old “drug addict.” When we contacted the local diocese, a spokesman said the bishop was convinced there was no merit to the reported “miracle.”
How does the situation now stand? Was it indeed just a hoax? We’d still like to see more specificity. According to the initial article, the woman did not reveal any names. As far as we know, that’s where it stands now.
But the stories connected to Pio just keep on coming — this saint who lived near the Cave of the Archangel Michael, whose feast is today (September 29). Last week we spoke to a Franciscan missionary hermit, Father Pio Francesco of Laceyville, Pennsylvania, who’s from Italy and whose mother, born in Pietrelcina, the same town as St. Pio, and was one of his spiritual “daughters.”
We were interested because Father Pio Francesco was named by St. Padre Pio, and the saint also gave him his first Holy Communion!
“We came to the U.S. when I was 12, but of course I remember him!” says the hermit. “More than anything else, I remember a very loving man, like a loving father. I remember one time Padre Pio hugged me and I came to about the middle of his chest, and I remember afterwards telling my mom, ‘Mom, Padre Pio smelled like perfume on his belly,’ and she said, ‘He doesn’t wear perfume. That’s the fragrance of roses.'”
How many have reported this? Again, no one can ever know; too many to count. It’s called the odor of sanctity — and it was around the saint frequently.
“Everybody from that town was inter-related and knew each other,” remarks Father Pio Francesco. “My grandparents were contemporary with his parents, and my parents would have known his brother Michael, who died in the 1960s. We were all related on my mother’s side. We all came from the same cradle, and my grandfather knew him very well. He would take my mother to San Giovanni. She knew him her whole life. They went to him in that old spiritual understanding of fatherhood. They went to him for everything.
“For example, when my mom wanted to get married, she went to him and said, ‘Father, I met this guy and am thinking of getting close to him.’ This is during Confession. And Padre Pio said, ‘Don’t. He’s not for you. You don’t know what type of coat he wears.’ He spoke in this cryptic type of language where you didn’t know what he meant until later on.
“But my mother did a little research with my grandfather and found out that the guy she was thinking of marrying was a Communist!”
These kinds of accounts too: voluminous beyond tally. It is said that the phenomena were so powerful that Padre Pio wondered himself who he was.
At times, it seemed like he was nearly omniscient.
But of course he wasn’t; he was human, albeit with almost unprecedented gifts. When Father Francesco’s mother finally named the right man for her, Padre Pio confirmed this by saying, “‘The angel of God has passed. Do it with the blessing of God.'”
Don’t we do that in our own lives? Isn’t the best choice often the one that, with our limited intellect, we would not choose first?
“When my mom was married and got pregnant, she went to Confession again and asked the padre what to name the child,” says Father Francesco. “He said ‘name him Pio Francesco,’ and that’s the name I got and my mother knew I was going to be a boy.”
By the time Padre Pio died in 1968, Father Pio and his family were living in New Jersey. “On September 22, the day before, my mother had a dream of him and Padre Pio said, ‘I come to say good-bye to you.’ My mother was so upset, she said, ‘Oh, no, don’t leave’ in the dream, but he said something like, ‘The Lord is calling me.’ The next morning when she woke up, she learned that he had died.”