Padre Pio became famous for exhibiting stigmata for most of his life, thereby generating much interest and controversy. He was both beatified (1999) and canonized (2002) by Pope John Paul II.
Padre Pio, also known as Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, was a friar, priest, alleged stigmatist and mystic, now venerated as a saint in the Catholic Church. Born Francesco Forgione, he was given the name of Pius when he joined the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin.
The Sanctuary of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina is located in San Giovanni Rotondo, Province of Foggia, Italy.
Padre Pio was born in Pietrelcina, a town in the province of Benevento, in the Southern Italian region of Campania.
Pietrelcina was a town where feast days of saints were celebrated throughout the year, and the Forgione family was deeply religious. They attended Mass daily, prayed the Rosary nightly, and abstained from meat three days a week in honor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
In 1897, after he had completed three years at the public school, Francesco was said to have been drawn to the life of a friar after listening to a young Capuchin who was in the countryside seeking donations. When Francesco expressed his desire to his parents, they made a trip to Morcone, a community 13 miles (21 km) north of Pietrelcina, to find out if their son was eligible to enter the Order. The friars there informed them that they were interested in accepting Francesco into their community, but he needed to be better educated.
Francesco received the sacrament of Confirmation on 27 September 1899.
Commencing his seven-year study for the priesthood, Fra Pio travelled to the friary of Saint Francis of Assisi in Umbria.
At 17, he fell ill, complaining of loss of appetite, insomnia, exhaustion, fainting spells, and migraines. He vomited frequently and could digest only milk and cheese. Religious devotees point to this time that inexplicable phenomena allegedly began to occur. During prayers for example, Pio appeared to others to be in a stupor, as if he were absent. One of Pio’s fellow friars later claimed to have seen him in ecstasy, and allegedly levitating above the ground.
In June 1905, Pio’s health worsened to such an extent that his superiors decided to send him to a mountain convent, in the hope that the change of air would do him good. This had little impact, however, and doctors advised that he return home. Even there his health failed to improve. Despite this, On 27 January 1907, he still made his solemn profession.
In 1910, Pio was subsequently ordained a priest by Archbishop Paolo Schinosi at the Cathedral of Benevento. Four days later, he offered his first Mass at the parish church of Our Lady of the Angels. His health being precarious, he was permitted to remain with his family until 1916 while still retaining the Capuchin habit.
On 4 September 1916, however, Pio was ordered to return to his community life. He moved to an agricultural community, Our Lady of Grace Capuchin Friary, located in the Gargano Mountains in San Giovanni Rotondo in the Province of Foggia. At that time the community numbered seven friars. He went on to remain at San Giovanni Rotondo until his death in 1968, except for a period of military service. In the priesthood, Padre Pio was known to perform a number of successful conversions to Catholicism.
Pio died in 1968 at the age of 81. His health deteriorated in the 1960s but he continued his spiritual works. On 21 September 1968, the day after the 50th anniversary of his receiving the stigmata, Padre Pio felt great fatigue. The next day, on September 22, 1968, he was supposed to offer a Solemn Mass, but feeling weak, he asked his superior if he might say a Low Mass instead, as he had done daily for years. Due to the large number of pilgrims present for the Mass, Padre Pio’s superior decided the Solemn Mass must proceed. Padre Pio carried out his duties but appeared extremely weak and fragile. His voice was weak and, after the Mass had concluded, he nearly collapsed while walking down the altar steps. He needed help from his Capuchin brothers. This was his last celebration of the Mass.
Early in the morning of 23 September 1968, Pio made his last confession and renewed his Franciscan vows. As was customary, he had his rosary in his hands, though he did not have the strength to say the Hail Marys aloud. Till the end, he repeated the words “Gesù, Maria” (Jesus, Mary). At around 2:30 a.m., he said, “I see two mothers” (taken to mean his mother and Mary). At 2:30 a.m. he died in his cell in San Giovanni Rotondo. With his last breath he whispered, “Maria!”
His body was buried on 26 September in a crypt in the Church of Our Lady of Grace. His Requiem Mass was attended by over 100,000 people. He had often said, “After my death I will do more. My real mission will begin after my death.” The accounts of those who stayed with Padre Pio till the end state that the stigmata had completely disappeared without a scar. Only a red mark “as if drawn by a red pencil” remained on his side but it disappeared.