The Real Face of St. Padre Pio

I have friends who are otherwise very reasonable people, but who have got into their heads the very unreasonable idea that Padre Pio is someone to be feared rather than loved. Knowing St. Pio as a child knows her loving father, I’ve decided that I will fight to my dying breath to show these dear friends and yes, the whole world, how very sweet, kind, gentle, loving and lovable the good Padre actually is.

Who else promised to stand outside Paradise until he brought in every one of his spiritual children before him? And who else is so gallant, so gracious, so generous as to accept every single one of us who asks to become one of these favored spiritual children? Why, this dear Father even promised that all those close to his spiritual children will be his spiritual children too! However you might reckon heavenly time, that’s a lot of waiting outside the pearly gates, all on account of this spiritual father’s sweet and tender love for us.

For those who aren’t convinced and maybe remain intimidated by stories they have heard, I highly recommend reading from the two marvelous books compiled by Diane Allen called (in the words of one of St. Pio’s famous sayings) Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry. You can also read similar true testimonies at padrepiodevotions.org — I think some of the stories may even be told in both places.

Because the Holy Spirit filled Padre Pio with such a range of miraculous charisms, some of the anecdotes about his kindness and merciful love tell of events which happened during his life on earth, and yet involve favors he gained for people who prayed to him even then (while he was living at the monastery of San Giovanni Rotondo) just as though he were already in Heaven. I guess in a way he was, given his intimate union with the Trinity.

 

Here is one of my favorite accounts:

There was a man in Italy, one Laurino Costa, who had a family to support but had been out of work for some time and had no prospects. He was given a photo of Padre Pio, and it made a huge impression on him. Laurino looked at the photo a lot, and even began to have dreams of Padre Pio, so he decided to write and ask Padre Pio to pray for him to get a job.

From Chapter 25 of Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry: “Right away, Laurino received an answer to his letter. Padre Pio wanted Laurino to come to San Giovanni Rotondo at once.”

Laurino had no money to make the trip, but he felt a strong and growing desire to do as Padre Pio said, so one day he hitchhiked to the train station, even though he had no money to buy a ticket. Once there, he ran into a friend and, when asked, he told his friend of his hope and intention to get to Padre Pio’s place — but also explaining that he had no money for the ticket. Laurino was overheard by another man standing nearby. This stranger volunteered to take him, as that was his own destination. This new friend was Dr. Giuseppe Gusso, the doctor who ran Padre Pio’s Home for the Relief of Suffering, and a good friend of the Padre.

Laurino’s first problem solved, he went to see Padre Pio, attending the saint’s morning Mass. Afterward, Padre Pio motioned to him to approach, and, like most people to whom this happened, Laurino thought, “He must not be beckoning me. He doesn’t know who I am.”

St. Pio of Pietrelcina meeting Prime Minister Moro / Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain).

A word of advice. If you ever see Padre Pio beckoning you, set aside your first reaction that he can’t be beckoning you. Even if he is beckoning the guy behind you, hey, why not step forward? I promise it will be worth your trouble!

Here’s what happened to Laurino. First Padre Pio had to tell him, “Laurino, come here at once!” and then, while Laurino trembled in astonishment (and fear, let’s admit it), Padre Pio simply instructed him, “Go over to the hospital and prepare the food for my sick.”

Then ensued the best conversation ever. Laurino objected that this wouldn’t work, as he had no idea how to cook. Laurino had never cooked for his own family, let alone a hospital full of sick people and their large medical staff! Padre Pio repeated his invitation, or rather his command. He insisted, so Laurino, although filled with fear at the very thought of such a plan, asked, “If I go to the hospital kitchen and try to cook, will you help me?”

Padre Pio promised, “Yes, I will be there with you and I will assist you.”

The story continues:

Laurino walked out of the church and across the plaza to Padre Pio’s hospital. The year was 1958. As soon as he entered the hospital, he was introduced to one of the nuns who was employed there. ‘You must be the new cook for the hospital!’ the nun exclaimed. ‘We have been waiting for you anxiously and are so glad that you have arrived!’

Laurino was shocked, but it got worse. He went into the hospital kitchen and found the kitchen workers staring at him, waiting for his orders for the day’s cooking! Surrounding him were massive institutional ovens, stoves, fridges, and sinks. But then . . . 

As Laurino continued to look around the kitchen, his fears began to subside. Suddenly, everything seemed strangely familiar to him, as though he had always been a cook. He felt confident that he could do what was required of him. He then proceeded to give the instructions to the kitchen staff. That first day on the job, Laurino cooked for 450 people.

He’d only planned to stay a day or two at the monastery, but Laurino now had a job and a steady income. He was, bizarrely, the head cook for the Home for the Relief of Suffering, and a fine cook at that. Despite his thought that his family would hate to move to San Giovanni Rotondo, Laurino followed Padre Pio’s instructions to move them, and sure enough, they ended up loving it. Laurino remained, always aware of the deep affection in which Padre Pio held him. 

The Extravagance of Love

I love this story because it has the typical Padre Pio affection and humor, but also a kind of extravagance of love. Not only did this loving father get Laurino a job, but a job near himself, where his family could live in a good place, and also, delightfully, a job which on his own Laurino was totally unfit for, but which Padre Pio miraculously helped him to accomplish with confidence and joy.

There are many more instances of Padre Pio’s compassion and tenderness: romantic stories of spouses he brought together, marriages his intercession repaired and strengthened, children he healed, and on and on, often illustrating more than anything else his gentleness—especially when the people involved were afraid of him! There are numerous accounts of those waiting in line for confession who were suddenly seized with fear and started to leave. One way or another, whether it was a shove from the person next in line, or Padre Pio leaning out of the confessional and calling the fearful one in to confess, the meeting took place. Wonderfully, when the encounter with Padre Pio occurred, rather than being a frightening experience, it invariably brought tremendous peace.

Often people would be so scared in his confessional that they couldn’t get any words out, whether they had come with a well prepared confession or had promised a neighbor they would ask Padre Pio’s prayers for a sick child. Over and over again, Padre Pio would gently do all the talking, leading the person through the confession by a list of the sins that had been committed. This unexpected litany, far from increasing the penitent’s fear, would bring awe and, even more beautifully, a realization of being known and loved, embraced by mercy and the infinite forgiveness of God as poured through this priest who was one with Him and apparently shared mysteriously in the Heavenly Father’s omniscience and limitless love. 

Some were even tempted to call Padre Pio “Mama” or “Papa” because St. Pio’s love for souls was so tender and maternal. His tenderness flowed, perhaps, from his own experience of Mother Mary’s care. He said of Our Blessed Mother, “She treats me as if I were her only child on the face of the earth. Her loving care toward me cannot be described in words.” This is how Mary treats each of us too, and because of his share in her love, it is how Padre Pio exercises his compassion over our souls as well.  

A man named Bill Martin came from Brooklyn, New York to visit Padre Pio in the monastery in Italy, and he was quite sad to leave, so happy had he been in the friar’s presence. On the day set for Bill’s departure, he was surprised and thrilled to have Padre Pio send a message to him to stay. Sure enough, Bill stayed and became Brother Joseph Pius Martin, and after Padre Pio’s death, he became Fr. Joseph Pius Martin. As the recipient of his spiritual father’s love both before and after Pio’s passing into eternal life on September 23, 1968, Fr. Joseph offers the following words of wisdom: “To meet Padre Pio even after his death is to find heaven, because that is where he will lead you.”

Have you met Padre Pio yet? The real Padre Pio? He has a beautiful smile behind his gray beard, and his face is full of love, kindness, and genuine interest as he waits to hear what he might do for you. He already knows, I’m sure, but like Jesus, he likes to hear you tell him. And as to what he has to tell you, I’m confident he would have me repeat on his behalf what he said to another of his beloved spiritual children, “You think you know my love for you but you don’t know that it is much greater than you can imagine.”

image: Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock.com

Suzie Andres

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Suzie Andres, a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and the University of Notre Dame, lives and writes in sunny Southern California. She is the editor of Selected Sermons of Thomas Aquinas McGovern, S.J., and author of Homeschooling with Gentleness, A Little Way of Homeschooling, the Catholic romantic comedy The Paradise Project, and the forthcoming Being Catholic: What Every Catholic Should Know.  Her latest books, Something New with St Thérèse: Her Eucharistic Miracle and Stations of the Cross with Our Sister St. Thérèse, are available in free ebook versions (along with her novel and a Vietnamese-English edition of the Stations, as well as a Spanish-English edition) at amazon.combarnesandnoble.com and on her website, suzieandres.com, where you can also find her blog, “Miss Marcel’s Musings,” and links to her books, online articles, and book lists for all ages.  

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