Feastday of St. Padre Pio: 22.09.23
St. Mary’s Church, Edenderry @ 7.30pm
It’s a real joy to be with you this evening. And particularly so to anticipate the feast of St. Pio or Padre Pio tomorrow, September 23rd. He is one of my favourite saints.
It was here in St. Mary’s Church that a greatly loved statue honouring him was unveiled and blessed ten years ago by Fr. P.J. This year we celebrate the 55th Anniversary of St. Pio’s death.
The theme of our diocesan presence at the ploughing these past few days was asking people to nominate their favourite saint. Forgive my hoarseness, that’s what three days on a Stand does to you! The nominations began long before the ploughing and continued on Tuesday and Wednesday and voting on the more popular shortlist of six happened yesterday!
Among the six was not surprisingly St. Pio. In the end he finished fourth behind St. Anthony, voted Irelands Favourite Saint by a landslide, followed by St. Brigid, St. Patrick and our friend St. Pio or as we called him St. Padre Pio! Taking up the rear in the race was St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Martin de Porres. Saints do things for people. Saints raise our eyes to the heavens. Saints capture our attention.
During our Mass I’m going offer a couple of words that speak to me of St. Pio, that brown robed priest with his cowled head always inclined forward, his hands buried deep in the loose sleeves of his habit. Padre Pio put huge weight on the Mass and on Confession, on proper preparation for the Holy Sacrifice, so let us pause a moment, aware we are indeed on holy ground and pray for God’s love, understanding and mercy …
Asking people to choose Irelands Favourite Saint was a winner from the outset, having in previous years held competitions for Irelands Favourite Poem, Irelands Favourite Prayer and then last year Irelands Favourite Hymn. If we are to host the ploughing in the diocese next year I’m not sure where we will go for a theme that similarly captures the imagination and interest.
Saints do that. Knowing and loving their lives, studying their words, learning their prayers. Some live a long age, others die early in life. St. Anthony who was voted Irelands Favourite Saint was dead by 36, St. Therese of Lisieux by 24 and Blessed Carlo Acutis, I know not a Saint yet, but will be shortly, he was dead by 15. I’m not sure who among us would feel we would have enough done in life by the age of 36, not to mention 24 or 15 to earn heaven.
Padre Pio lived to a much older age. He was born in 1887, a few years before Edith Stein and Maximilian Kolbe; Padre Pio was the only one of the three of them to survive the Second World War, dying in 1968 at the age of 81. Maybe that’s why his life gives most of us a little comfort and hope.
The Forgione family which also included another brother and three sisters, were very devout. His parents encouraged and fostered Pio’s vocation, however like so many of our saints he met several obstacles on the way towards beginning a religious life. He was too young, like Jeremiah the prophet. He was not academic enough, like the Curé of Ars, St. John Vianney. He was from a poor family who were not afraid of hard work, like St. Bernadette Soubirous.
The sense of touch was important in the life of Padre Pio. There is the story told of three soldiers returning from the war and calling to see Padre Pio. One of them had no interest in meeting Pio and thought it was a waste of good ‘down time’ returning from the horrors of the war. The three of them met him and the reluctant one sarcastically said to him: “show me your wounds?”, to which the friar responded, looking him in the eye: “show me yours?” The soldier uncontrollably broke down as he reflected on his broken relationship back home and the many fractures in his own life. Many pilgrims over the years just wanted to see the stigmata. Like St. Francis of Assisi and St. Catherine of Siena, Padre Pio was a stigmatist. He bore the wounds of Christ for half a century. Wounds that never became infected, and through the years he lost huge amounts of blood, yet never collapsed.
It’s very interesting the fascination there always is with blood. Only a few days ago on Tuesday last, September 19th, the Church celebrated the feast of St. Januarius. As far back as 305AD the Bishop was beheaded during the persecutions inflicted on Christians by Diocletian. The blood that followed the brutal decapitation was collected and retained in a container by his nurse. When his body was moved to Naples a few years later, the vial containing the blood was put near his head and the blood began to liquify. This very miracle happens every September 19th since and as recently as last Tuesday. The abbot of the chapel of the treasury announced: “we have just taken from the safe the reliquary with the blood of our patron saint, which immediately liquefied”. The Archbishop of Naples said on Tuesday that the blood of St. Januarius makes him think of the unjust bloodshed that happens every day “whenever a person is wounded, humiliated, or nor respected in his dignity”. As we gather we think of Ukraine and many other areas that don’t make it onto our screens.
Returning to St. Pio, quite often young friars would be with Padre Pio in the garden in San Giovanni Rotundo, they were bemused by this holy man who could read their minds. Occasionally he would send one of the young men back up to his room to collect a book he needed to read. When the young friar entered his bedroom there would be handkerchiefs and tissues from the night before with blood that had seeped from the wounds, all around the bedside. Of course the friar picked up the book and would take one of the tissues and pocket it for later. When he returned Padre Pio would tell him to return to the room and leave back what he had taken! Not easy to have a companion like that under the same roof!
When Pio died on September 23rd 1968, fifty-five years tomorrow, the stigmata disappeared, his body was complete again. St. John Paul II reminded us in his life Padre Pio was “totally absorbed in God, always bearing the marks of Jesus’ passion in his body, Padre Pio was bread broken for men and women starving for God’s mercy and forgiveness”. He often said the sorest wounds on his body were not the seeping ones but the hidden ones.
All of us have hidden wounds. We all bring our story to tonight’s Mass. Perhaps somewhere over there she is praying for healing after surgery; another is praying for a good outcome after a newly discovered lump is under investigation; he is a little sceptical, but still here, because the scepticism doesn’t rest easily and another has too much to pray for, she doesn’t know where to begin. What strengthened Padre Pio strengthens us – his reverence for the Blessed Sacrament; his love of Our Lady; his faith in the Mass and his understanding of mercy in the Confessional.
May the man of prayer from San Giovanni touch our lives this evening with healing, with health and with hope.
 CNA Reporting by Hannah Brockhaus, Rome Newsroom, September 19, 2023
 Pope John Paul II, Address to Pilgrims, the day after the Beatification of Padre Pio, May 3, 1999