Francesco, named in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, was one of eight children of Grazio and Maria Forgione. Francesco was very devout even as a child, and at an early age felt drawn to the priesthood. He became a Capuchin novice at the age of sixteen and received the habit in 1902. Francesco was ordained to the priesthood in 1910 after seven years of study and became known as Padre Pio. On September 20, 1918, Padre Pio was kneeling in front of a large crucifix when he received the visible marks of the crucifixion. The doctor who examined Padre Pio could not find any natural cause for the wounds.Padre Pio describes what happened in a letter that he wrote to his spiritual advisor, Padre Benedetto. On the mourning of the 20th of last month, in the choir, after I celebrated Mass, I yielded to a drowsiness similar to sweet sleep. All the internal and external senses and even the very faculties of my soul were immersed in indescribable stillness. Absolute silence surrounded and invaded me.
I was suddenly filled with great peace and abandonment witch effected everything else and caused a lull of turmoil. All this happened in a flash.While this was taking place, I saw before me a mysterious person similar to the one I had seen on the evening of August the 5th. The only difference was that his hands and feet and side were dripping blood. The sight terrified me and what I felt at that moment is indescribable. I thought I should have died if the Lord had not intervened and strengthened my heart which was about to burst out of my chest. The vision disappeared and I became aware that my hands, feet and side were dripping blood. He then goes on about the pain he experienced for the next week. These wounds never healed or festered and were still bleeding at the time of his death in 1968, fifty years later.
The wounds of the stigmata were not the only mystical phenomenon experienced by Padre Pio. The blood from the stigmata had an odor described by many as similar to that of perfume or flowers. Padre Pio had the ability to read the hearts of the penitents who flocked to him for confession which he heard for ten or twelve hours per day. Padre Pio used the confessional to bring both sinners and devout souls closer to God; he would know just the right word of counsel or encouragement that was needed. Even before his death, people spoke to Padre Pio about his possible canonization. On Friday, September 20, 1968, fifty years after the stigmata, he celebrated Mass as he usually did at 5:00 A.M. He was extremely weak and was helped to the altar in a wheelchair. He celebrated the Mass while seated, with the permission of his spiritual son, Pope Paul VI. An unusual thing began to happen. Prayer groups and thousands of his Spiritual Children began to arrive in San Giovanni Rotondo on top of Monte Gargano in southern Italy.
There had been no arrangement made by the Capuchins, no organized gathering had been planned, yet his “children” as he called them gathered as if for some special occasion. Despite his weakness he heard confessions until his superior ordered him to rest. On Saturday, he was so weak he had to spend the day in bed. The crowds gathered in Our Lady of Grace Church to pray for Padre Pio’s recovery. God healed him before; surely he would heal him again, people thoughtOn Sunday, the 22nd, he celebrated his 5:00 A.M. morning Mass for all his prayer groups. Again he was wheeled into the church and celebrated Mass while seated. His voice was weak. It was apparent that he had little strength. In fact, at the end of the Mass he almost collapsed. He was helped from the altar by his brother Friars, and as he was wheeled into the chapel. Some of his children realized he had just celebrated his last Mass.
On that day, the crypt which had been made for Padre Pio was blessed by the bishop. Some years earlier, in 1959 at the opening of the new church, Padre Pio had said, “When the crypt is blessed God will call Padre Pio home.” At that time, no one remembered his prophecy; they all felt he would be healed. At noon, he came to the little window in his cell. His friars supported him as he waved his hand weakly and blessed the anxious crowd outside. About 1:00 A.M. the following morning Padre Pio rang the little bell beside him. He sat in an arm chair dressed in his Franciscan habit. His superior sent immediately for the doctor in Padre Pio’s hospital LaCasa Sollievo Della Sofferenza. Padre Pio went to confession. His Capuchin brothers administered the last rites. He renewed his Franciscan vows. His rosary was in his hands as it always was.
He was unable to say the Hail Mary, but he repeated over and over again the names Jesus and Maria. About 2:30, he opened his eyes very wide and said: “I see two mothers.” (His earthly mother and his Heavenly Mother.) As he exhaled his last breath, he whispered “Maria.” Later his superior said that his head fell gently to his chest and that “he died like a little bird.” For a few moments his cell was blooming with the heavenly fragrance that so often came from his wounds during his fifty years of suffering. It was estimated that about 100,000 attended his funeral. Most of them had come to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of his stigmata. They did not realize they would be witnesses to a great event in Church history – the “going home” of a future saint.