See Where Padre Pio Received the Stigmata, Bilocated and Worked Miracles

My experience visiting the 10 friaries of Padre Pio — a journey that resulted in the book ‘Following Padre Pio’ — was a true adventure.

St. Pio of Pietrelcina with the book cover from ‘Following Padre Pio’
St. Pio of Pietrelcina with the book cover from ‘Following Padre Pio’ (photo: Courtesy Photo)

“The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The Greek word translated as “dwelt” (eskēnōsen) means, more literally, “put up his tent among us,” or “tabernacled, sojourned.” Drawing on Old Testament imagery (see Exodus 25:8–9), within this tent or tabernacle, God would “dwell in our midst.” St. John’s message is that the Word is the new mode of God’s presence among his people. The tent is the world, which is now indwelt by Jesus. Christ is begotten as a man and has fully informed the world.

With Christ’s Incarnation, God is no longer above us, outside or distant. He is here, with us, present among us. The specific place where Jesus dwelled most of his earthly life was his hometown of Nazareth. He lived for some 30 years in this obscure village in the lower Galilee region — from whence one wondered if anything good could come (see John 1:46). At the age of 30, he left Nazareth for Capernaum on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee (see Luke 3:23), where he began to preach and call his disciples. After a public ministry of three years, he went to Jerusalem where he endured his Passion and Crucifixion followed by the Resurrection on the third day.

Scripture reveals that most of Jesus’ early life was ordinary. In Nazareth, he grew up and “was obedient to [his parents and] advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man” (Luke 2:51-52). Even during his ministries — in which he began publicly performing miracles and healings — he did ordinary things. He walked with his disciples, attended weddings, and traversed the roads of Galilee and Judea.

It is said that one cannot fully know someone else without visiting the place where he or she grew up. As anyone who has been on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land can attest, visiting the places where Jesus lived leads to a more profound understanding of the Scriptures. St. Jerome referred to the Holy Land as the Fifth Gospel: “Five gospels record the life of Jesus. Four you will find in books and the one you will find in the land they call Holy. Read the fifth gospel and the world of the four will open to you.” Indeed, after a visit to the Holy Land, one never hears the Gospels in quite the same way.

Like Christ who was formed in a very human way in his hometown of Nazareth, the saints, too, led human lives. They were not formed in a vacuum. In their own hometowns — among parents and relatives, educators and catechists, friends and companions — their personalities, minds and spiritualities were formed. They are people, and they have their personal story.

Padre Pio was no exception. He, too, was the progeny of a people. Padre Pio was formed by those of his native town, as well as the friars of the Capuchin Order he entered. Thus, I tried to get to know the great stigmatized saint in a novel way: by personally exploring the friaries where he lived. With Pietrelcina as my base, I followed Padre Pio’s life trajectory by retracing the 10 convents (friaries) where he lived.

The first site is Morcone. Here, the young 15-year-old Francesco Forgione entered the novitiate on Jan. 6, 1903. He was soon given a new name (Fra’ Pio) and after one year, he made his temporary vows. Then he was sent to Sant’Elia a Pianisi to begin his studies. The next 10 years were spent among various friaries throughout the vast province interspersed with stints back home at Pietrelcina for health reasons: the Sanctuary of the Madonna dei Monti in Campobasso (1905); San Marco la Catola (1905-1906); Serracapriola (1907-1908); Montefusco (autumn-winter, 1908); Gesualdo (1911); Venafro (Oct.-Dec. 7, 1911); and Foggia (1916). Finally, he climbed the Gargano mountains to the rural friary outside of San Giovanni Rotondo. There he would remain for 50 years until his death on Sept. 23, 1968.

My experience visiting the friaries of Padre Pio was a true adventure. There was no shortage of difficulties as I logged more than 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) on my vehicle. The three southern Italian regions that make up the Capuchin Province of Padre Pio have always lagged behind the prosperous north, and the roads are often potholed or even washed out. At times, I wondered if I was going to make it. Moreover, most of the friaries are situated in remote locations well off the beaten path and were frustratingly difficult to find.

Yet, the disappointments and concerns were tempered with all the more abundant blessings. I discovered that all the cells where Padre Pio lived have been outfitted with vintage furnishings to make them look exactly like they were in the early 20th century. Additionally, each site boasts a small museum with relics and artifacts from his life.

Yet, the most memorable aspect of my journey was the rich encounters with the friars, sisters, and laypersons I met along the way. In Gesualdo, for example, there was Father Emidio Cappabianca. Now an octogenarian, he was a young Capuchin student doing ministry work for the summer in San Giovanni Rotondo when Padre Pio died. He spoke about Padre Pio casually, as if telling stories about a famous uncle. Testimonies like his were the highlight of my journey.

As I concluded my pilgrimage to the friaries of Padre Pio, I realized just how much Padre Pio was the progeny of a people. He was formed by those of his native town, as well as the friars of the Capuchin Province of Sant’Angelo. Visiting the sites personally and getting to know the Capuchin friars who carry on his legacy in each site was a blessing I will cherish for a lifetime.

Following Padre Pio: A Journey of Discovery from Pietrelcina to San Giovanni Rotondo is available on Amazon in paperback, hardbound, and ebook formats.

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