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Francesco Forgione was born May 25, 1887, into a poor Italian farm family in Pietrelcina. He was baptized in the Church of St. Ann in Pietrelcina, where he later became an altar server.
By the time he was 5 years old, he had made the decision to dedicate his life to God.
As a child, he worked on the farm by taking care of a small flock of sheep that the family owned until the age of 10, which delayed his education greatly. When it came time to join the Capuchin order, he was told he needed to be better educated before he could become involved. He was able to receive private tutoring at the age of 15 and this allowed him to enter the novitiate with the Capuchin Franciscan Friars in Morcone. This is where he took on the name “Friar Pio.”
Once he joined the Friary of St. Francis, he had several bouts of serious illness and religious ecstasy. Friars would report that strange noises would come from his cell. Padre Pio had frequently spoken about attacks from the devil, and it was there where these battles had taken place. Although he was terribly ill, he was ordained a priest in 1910 at the Cathedral of Benevento in southern Italy.
Drafted in 1914, he served in the medical corps until ill health released him from the battles of World War I. In 1916, Padre Pio moved to our Lady of Grace Capuchin Friary in San Giovanni Rotondo. This was in the Gargano Mountains near the Adriatic coast. There he taught the students at the seminary and prayed alongside the townspeople.
Due to the war, many Capuchins were drafted and only seven friars were at the friary when he arrived. He was again drafted in 1917 and served a year before his ill health gained him a permanent discharge.
In August 1918, he began experiencing a painful stigmata that would come and go over a period of weeks. This soon would become permanent and remain on his body for the next 50 years. It only disappeared miraculously a few days before his death in September 1968. Countless experts and doctors looked at his wounds with no clear explanation. Some questioned the authenticity of the wounds, and others could not find a sure diagnosis. Many professionals saw the wounds but did not keep a written record of their thoughts. Padre Pio never had a fever or drops in blood pressure, but the wounds bled day after day for 50 years.
In the beginning, Padre Pio felt great humiliation at the wounds on his body. The visible stigmata on his body was one that brought him great pain, but he welcomed it for all of mankind. He had stated many times that his “greatest wish was to die.” He was visited by so many pilgrims wishing to see some of the miraculous manifestations that his presence attracted.
La Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza, the Home for the Relief of Suffering, is Padre Pio’s life work. It opened on May 5, 1956, with thousands in attendance including Padre Pio prayer groups from all over the world as he celebrated Mass on the hospital’s steps.
His dream to make it a hospital city has come true and is considered one of the best hospitals in Italy.
Padre Pio died of a heart attack at Our Lady of Grace in San Giovanni Rotondo on Sept. 23, 1968. When died, many of the friars were eager and willing to begin the great process of canonization. This is when a mystic can become named a saint in the eyes of the Catholic Church.
The memory of Padre Pio was beatified by Pope John Paul II at Mass on May 2, 1999, in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City.