Padre Pio introduced a doubt in my disbelief

Graham Greene kept a photo of Padre Pio in his wallet. The saintly friar, he said, “introduced doubt to his disbelief.”

Despite the constant suspicion of the Church during his life, particularly during the early years after the stigmata, Padre Pio made a very speedy progress to Canonization, championed no doubt by John Paul II who met him at his friary of San Giovanni Rotundo when he was a young Priest studying in Rome in 1947.

The story of Padre Pio, photographed with the stigmata, the first priest, in fact, to be a stigmatic, was one of those that coloured my prep-school, but I was reading today of his second-sight, to see into the future and reassure people. A little reassurance is always good, and I like his command, “Pray, hope and don’t worry.”He was also famously capable of bi-location.

padre pio by TIM.jpg

It is perhaps distressing that there was speculation that he faked the stigmata with carbolic acid brought in by Maria de Vito. I remember reading about this in the press about 7 years’ ago. Shortly after this news broke, his body was exhumed to mark the 40th anniversary of his death. Recently, there have surfaced some tapes suggesting he had an oddly close relationship with a group of women. Attracting controversy during his life, it would be odd indeed if such controversy had stopped at his death!

Sergio Luzatto’s account of Padre Pio tells us “There were hints of acids and poisons, the smell of fraud and deceit.” He was addicted to valium. Sensational. Tricks not only with carbolic acid but also with veratrine, but I doubt either would have produced the hand wounds that seem fairly genuine and that apparently bled for 50 years. He places great weight on the opinion of a man called Gemelli who was actually turned away by Padre Pio and never examined the wounds. Gemelli’s summary- “these characteristic manifestations of psittacism that are intrinsic to the hysteric mind. Anyone with experience in forensic medicine…can have no doubt that these wounds were wounds of erosion caused by the use of a caustic substance.” Gemelli smears Padre Pio by association with Fascism, but then, as I know from my own brush with Italian Religious orders, that would be true all round. “Clerico-fascism” certainly exists even today, but Padre Pio would appear to have been a victim of that, not a practitioner. He goes on to say the local archbishop Pasquale Gagliardi suspected there were women in the Capucchin monastery, and that he himself was caught up in a gay conspiracy… it is really all too speculative. Francesco Cas­telli’s “Padre Pio Under Investigation” is a better book, though it has received much less press coverage!

Castelli’s book faithfully presents and analyses the documents, specifically the initial report commissioned by Bishop Rossi in 1921, just two years after Pio’s stigmata. He concludes that the stigmata is genuine.

I am about to start work on a programme about Martin Luther and Thomas More, giants in the history of Religious thought, but the two saints I have blogged about here, Padre Pio and the Cure D’Ars, were both fairly modest men. They both recommended prayer as an answer. It sounds a bit platitudinous and impractical. But sometimes actions need time and maybe passing the time is what we should call prayer? I have been involved in trying to sort out accommodation for some homeless people in my local village: it has been very frustrating and the homeless couple themselves have always managed to thwart every possible effort made on their behalf. I think they have it tough: ours is no longer an age that responds well to poverty, and as in Victorian England, we have somehow made a distinction between the deserving and the undeserving poor. God Help you if you fall into the latter camp- for clearly no council, and no charity, under current rules, will be allowed to do so! It should not stop us trying, though…

The local Priest, a wonderful lady who is more pastoral and more practical than many Priests I have known, still looks to the power of prayer. I think, in secular terms, prayer is a readiness to wait, and to listen. It is worth taking seriously. And there has been some progress over the last year.

“Pray”, said Padre Pio, “there is nothing else left”. And prayer, said the Cure d’Ars, “is the powerlessness of the All-powerful, the all-powerfulness of the powerless”.

cure d'ars

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