VATICAN CITY — On Saturday, Pope Francis said St. Padre Pio is a key example of someone who has given his entire life in the service of God’s mercy. The Holy Father said there is only one reason he was able to do so: prayer.
“We can say that Padre Pio was a servant of mercy. He did so full time, practicing, at times in exhaustion, the apostolate of listening,” the Pope said Feb. 6.
Through his ministry in the confessional, where he would at times spend 10-15 hours a day, the saint was able to become “a caress of the living Father, who heals the wounds of sin and refreshes the heart with peace.”
Francis said Padre Pio never tired of welcoming and listening to the people who came to him. He said the saint spent his time and strength spreading “the perfume of the forgiveness of the Lord.”
The only reason Padre Pio was able to do this, he said, is because “he was always attached to the source: He was continuously quenched by Jesus Crucified, and so became a channel of mercy.”
“In this way, his small drop became a great river of mercy, which irrigated many dry hearts and created an oasis of life in many parts of the world.”
Pope Francis spoke to members of “Padre Pio prayer groups,” workers at the Home to Relieve Suffering, founded by St. Pio in 1956, and faithful from the Manfredonia-Vieste-San Giovanni Rotondo Archdiocese who were present in St. Peter’s Square.
St. Pio of Pietrelcina, colloquially known as “Padre Pio,” was a priest of the Order of the Friars Minor Capuchin, a stigmatist and a mystic, who lived 1887-1968. He was beatified in 1999 and canonized in 2002 by St. John Paul II. He was born in Pietrelcina, but ministered in San Giovanni Rotondo from 1916 until his death.
The papal audience with the different groups associated with Padre Pio marks just one of several activities being held in honor of the fact that the relics of Padre Pio have made their way to Rome for the first time, alongside those of another friar, St. Leopold Mandic, as part of a special tour during the Jubilee of Mercy.
The bodies of the two saints arrived in Rome Feb. 3 and were taken in a walking procession to St. Peter’s Basilica Feb. 5. They will remain at the basilica until Feb. 11.
In his speech, Pope Francis said prayer groups aren’t just “community centers,” where one can be comfortable with friends and get a little bit of consolation, but are “hotbeds of divine love.”
He said prayer “is a true and real mission, which brings the fire of love to all humanity,” and he pointed to Padre Pio’s frequent affirmation that prayer is the “strength that moves the world.”
Prayer, then, isn’t just something we practice in order to get peace or a devout means of getting what we need. If it were like this, then our prayer would be “would be moved by a subtle egoism,” like taking an aspirin for a quick fix to a problem or trying to negotiate with God, he said.
Instead, prayer “is a work of spiritual mercy, which desires to bring everything to the heart of God. … It’s a gift of faith and of love, an intercession of which there is a need, like that of bread,” Pope Francis said.
If summed up in one word, prayer means to “to entrust: to entrust the Church, people and situations to the Father, because he takes care of them,” Francis continued, noting how Padre Pio used to say that prayer is “the best weapon we have, a key that opens the heart of God.”
The Pope said prayer is the greatest strength of the Church, “which we should never leave.” If we leave the Church, the Pope said, we risk depending on other things, such as money and power, instead of God.
Once this happens, “evangelization vanishes and joy goes out,” the Pope said, adding off-the-cuff remarks that the heart then “becomes boring.” He asked pilgrims whether they wanted a boring or joyful heart. If the answer is the latter, he said, then “pray! This is the recipe.”
Francis thanked the groups for their commitment and encouraged them to always be centers of mercy and joyful apostles of prayer, because “prayer works miracles.”
Before closing his speech, the Pope pointed to the hospital founded by Padre Pio 70 years ago, the Home for the Relief of the Suffering.
He stressed the importance of not just treating the sick, but of caring for them. He noted that sometimes, while medicating the wounds of the body, wounds of the soul become aggravated.
These wounds “are slower and often difficult to heal. Only closeness and prayer can help to heal them,” Francis said, explaining that this closeness is crucial, because “the sick person is Jesus.”
Pope Francis closed his speech by recalling what St. John Paul II said about Padre Pio during the saint’s May 2, 1999, beatification Mass: Those who went to St. Pio to attend his Mass or to seek guidance or confession “saw in him a living image of Christ, suffering and risen.”
“The face of Padre Pio reflected the light of the Resurrection,” Francis said, before leading pilgrims in praying an Our Father and a Hail Mary.