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


Why Sticks and stones matter

This evening I am blogging about a National story. But it has relevance to Daventry and, indeed, to any political campaign.

Let me put this in context: A few weeks’ ago, I felt a red line had been crossed when an elected MEP, David Coburn, compared a Scottish Parliamentary Minister to a convicted terrorist. I had written to the leader of the relevant party (my own) asking for a clear letter of apology to be sent to Humza Yousaf and when no such letter was forthcoming, and equally when the said MEP failed to resign, I did what I thought was the honourable thing and resigned myself both as a Parliamentary candidate and as a member of the said party. In this way, I found myself as an independent candidate standing for the District Council in Drayton.

I am proud that I stood up for what is right. We need to respect one another and we need to stand up to bullies, whoever and wherever they are. Sometimes falling on your sword is the only way to make a point, pun intended. And the point MUST be made that Racism and homophobia are simply unacceptable in today’s society.

I was verbally savaged after I resigned, and then my family was attacked. The savaging I accept- the attack on my family I denounce. It is plucked from the same cupboard as the racism and the homophobia, a cupboard full of the “dark arts” of Politics. It has no place in our world and those who use, or even dip into these dark arts do not deserve public office.

I believe passionately that bullies should be ridiculed. I was a teacher and remain an educational consultant: I know the harm that bullies can do, but I also know how readily they collapse when we laugh at them. I think of the “Ridikulous spell” against the Boggarts in Harry Potter- I think it is not surprising that it features in the best Harry Potter book, “the Prisoner of Azkaban”. That’s how to deal with bullies!

Both racism and homophobia are mostly about bullying, calling people by foul names, of demeaning a person by reference to race, creed, gender. Of course, in extreme cases this can also lead to actual violence. But name-calling is quite bad enough, and it is worth reflecting on the old adage about “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never harm me.” They may not, but the person who uses racist or homophobic “names” is exposed there and then as a pathetic individual, quite unworthy of election. Anyone who defends that person is smeared by association. Names may not hurt me, but they should certainly hurt the name-caller!

Of course, when you stand up to a bully, as one brave boy I know did a few weeks’ ago in one of our major Public Schools, there is every chance the bully himself will start crying and claim he has been the victim. Though soon after that, he was into blackmail: “By their fruits shall ye know them”!

neil hay

Today, there is a news story about a Labour man called Ian Smart who referred to the SNP as “fascist scum” and Neil Hay who is himself an SNP candidate has called UK supporters “quislings” or traitors. He has done this rather more shamefully under a pseudonym, and he has rightly been exposed and asked to account for what he has written. It seems he was also fairly outspoken about elderly people, questioning their ability to vote. We can’t have that!

His blog has now been deleted but that is never enough. Nicola Sturgeon said this, “I do condemn the language used and I condemn the comments made – as I always do when anybody steps out of line on Twitter, on Facebook or any medium.”

cure d'ars

There is the famous story of S. Jean Vianney, the Curé d’Ars, canonized in 1925, who was faced by a penitent, a lady who claimed to have been gossiping. He asked her to bring him a chicken and, because lunch was calling, to pluck it as she walked from her home to church. When she arrived with the freshly plucked bird, he told her to go back and collect all the feathers. “But that’s impossible,” she said, “Many of them will have blown away”. And so it is, said the priest, with gossip and name-calling. It spreads. The damage that is done when we write a stupid blog cannot be undone simply by taking down the blog. And an apology needs to be made good by a proper demonstration of repentance. (I knew a wonderful man in Greece called Roger de Ponton d’Amecourt who was writing a comprehensive biography of the Priest. I do not know whether he has finished it and we have sadly fallen out of contact.)

I resigned from UKIP because I felt the need to sever the link from a party that condoned racism and homophobia. My penance is not finished. I must now try to repair some of the damage done by my association with that party. The least I can do is to continue writing to Mr Farage and demanding Mr Coburn’s resignation as well as a letter of apology to Mr Yousaf. So far, Mr Farage has failed to respond directly, though I gather he has made national funds available to target my campaign in Drayton.

But it is surely time that politics in the UK changed, and politicians of all parties grew up. Three things need to be said. First of all, some of the greatest politicians have changed party allegiance. That is nothing shameful or new. Churchill, for example, did so. Secondly, there used to be a code of honour because we are all, after all, in the same business: we want to change the way that things are done, and we feel propelled to do this in the public eye. We do not set out to be savaged personally, or to be lynched, and nor should we expect our families to be attacked. Instead, we stand up, we speak out and we, alone, should be held to account. And thirdly and finally, regarding the name calling that has taken place today- there was a referendum only a few months’ ago and Scotland voted very clearly to remain in the Union. That may not be the result the SNP wanted to hear, but it is a democratic decision and until there is a further vote, it should be accepted. The people who voted for the Union are not “quislings”- they were exercising a democratic right. And the SNP is one of the most socially aware parties in our United Kingdom – to call the SNP “fascist scum” is to belittle the people who died fighting genuine fascism in the Second world war; Fascist scum would not welcome immigrants. Fascist scum would not put out one of the most generous education packages for University students in the country.

We need to be less tribal in our politics and there is no need at all for British Politics to be so grubby.