Our Lady’s Basilica, Knick Shrine, 18.09.2022
It’s a real joy to be with you this day, as what I might call the Irish Padre Pio family come on pilgrimage to the Marian and Eucharistic Shrine here at Knock. I realise many of you have been here yesterday for the Retreat and this afternoon we have come to the highlight of every pilgrimage, the Mass following the Anointing of the Sick here in the Basilica and Procession to the Apparition Chapel later.
I understand Padre Pio Prayer groups have been travelling to Knock since 1979, huge credit to Eileen Maguire and the late Fr. Angelus O’Neill OFM Cap who established the pilgrimage and put it on the solid footing it remains today. I welcome the 77 prayer-groups under the leadership of the Capuchin Provincial Fr. Sean Kelly OFM Cap. and the newly appointed National Director of the Padre Pio Apostolate, Fr. Bryan Shortall OFM Cap. Thank you Fr. Bryan for the invitation to lead the pilgrimage today, an invitation that came to me in January this year, ensuring this date was well bedded into my diary.
The gospel focuses on our need to trust, to be I suggest prudent. And that’s not a word we hear much of today. During our Mass I’m going offer a couple of words that speak to me of one of my favourite saints, St. Pio or still more familiarly known Padre 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 …
Many of you know the story of Padre Pio perhaps better than me. Afterall you are his family, the Irish Padre Pio family, and we all know how he loved the Irish! While he never left his native Italy, he managed to capture the imagination of countless people the world over, the Irish very much included.
He was born in 1887, a few years before Edith Stein and Maximilian Kolbe; Padre Pio was the only one to survive the Second World War, dying in 1968. The Forgione family which also included another brother and three sisters, was very devout. His parents encouraged and fostered Pio’s vocation and like so many of our saints he met several obstacles on the way. 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.
There are several books written on Padre Pio, in fact you could have a library devoted to him. Recently I read of a powerful connection with this very basilica in Knock. Colm Keane in his recent publication ‘Padre Pio – Irish Encounters with the Saint’ writes “a little-known footnote to history is Padre Pio’s role in the building of Knock Shrine Basilica. His interest aroused through his friendship with Limerick café owner Gerry Fitzgerald, who was the mastermind behind what was known as the Knock Building Project”. While Fitzgerald’s dream of this basilica, greatly renovated in recent years by Fr. Richard and his team, was originally realised in 1976, both Padre Pio and Gerry Fitzgerald had by then gone to their eternal reward. This basilica was born out of the idea that pilgrims needed shelter when they came on pilgrimage. While the weather is fine this afternoon, we all know Knock weather can have that sense of unpredictability about it!
The dishonest steward becomes the focus of attention in Luke’s gospel. When he sees his predicament, he seeks the approval of his masters creditors by reducing what they owed him. He basically does deals and such deals shows a level of renewed confidence and trust that his master has in him. We might call it prudence today. It’s hard to define what prudence is, but we all know what a prudent person is, what they do, what they say, what they avoid. It’s often a judgement call. Pope St. John XXIII is reputed to have said: “See everything, overlook a great deal, correct a little”. Great wisdom there. This is prudence at its best. The good teacher never raises his or her voice, they don’t need to. When we are prudent we never make a decision in anger, in discouragement or in haste.
Knowing when to be silent and knowing when to speak! Prudence helps keep focus on what is essential, on what is necessary. Prudence is having a feel for the situation. I see Padre Pio as a prudent soul who when faced with serious opposition from Church authorities, sometimes from his own friars, from over enthusiastic pilgrims remained resolute in his determination to carry out God’s will but do so gently, humbly, prudently. A prudent person has that rhythm to their day that nothing disturbs. As Timothy Dolan offers in his publication ‘Priests for the Third Millennium’: “this balanced approach to life avoids excess. Exercise is important, but can be overdone.; sleep is essential, but can be disproportionate; food and drink are necessary, but can be abused; recreation and time off needed, but can be exaggerated”. I suggest Padre Pio emulated this prudent approach throughout his life and nothing shook him in his resolve to see it through.
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 traveller 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.
Often young friars would be with him in the garden in San Giovanni Rotundo, they were bemused by this holy man who could read their minds. Often he would send one of the 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!
Touch is a critical part of the pilgrimage here to Knock. For me the small section of the gable wall perhaps encapsulates Knock best. Placing my hand on the section of stones coming from the original gable wall. I always treasure that moment as a decade or a mystery is interrupted, and sometimes the pause leads to a confusion, was it the third or the fourth decade, the eighth or ninth Hail Mary?
I wish to return to the dishonest steward in Luke’s gospel. He makes amends. The door of the Church always remains open. No matter what you have done in life, your church, your parish, your community, your family will welcome your return. When Pio died on September 23rd, 1968, 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.
Like the dishonest steward, all of us have hidden wounds. We all bring our own story to Knock. Perhaps 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 start. What strengthened Padre Pio strengthens us this afternoon in Knock – his reverence for the Blessed Sacrament; his love of Our Lady; his faith in the Mass and his understanding of mercy in the Confessional. Each element you find here in Knock.
May the prudent man of prayer from San Giovanni touch our lives this day with healing, with health and with hope. The late Benedict Groeschel CFR tells the story when he was close to ordination, a friend visiting San Giovanni, asked Padre Pio to scribble something to the young friar about to be ordained. In Italian he wrote: “Jesus alone will be your strength and your comfort” signed “Padre Pio, Capuchin”. It’s all any of us need to hear, He is our strength and our comfort.
The final word that speaks to me from Luke’s text today is trust. We need to trust in His strength and His comfort. I mentioned earlier how Padre Pio was one of my favourite saints, I think no saint would have wished for canonisation. Pio certainly wouldn’t. He was a humble man of God who we are very lucky, has touched our lives and continues to do so in so many ways. May our Prayer Groups be blessed as they continue the healing that is rooted as Padre Pio wound remind us, not in him but in Christ. Amen.
 Keane, Colm: ‘Padre Pio – Irish Encounters with the Saint’, Capel Island Press, 2017, pg. 91
 Dolan, Timothy: ‘Priests for the Third Millennium’, Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 2000, pg. 120.
 Pope John Paul II, Address to Pilgrims, the day after the Beatification of Padre Pio, May 3, 1999
 Groeschel, Benedict: ‘The Saints in my Life’, Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 2011, pg. 197.