Today, September 23rd, is the feast of St. Pio of Pietrecina, my spiritual father and favourite saint. Each year on this day I remember the trip we took to Italy in 2010 – where we were fortunate enough to stop in at San Giovanni Rotundo to visit the Padre. As it was the 50th anniversary of his death, the Franciscans had exhumed his body and found him incorrupt, so they placed him in a beautiful reliquary and allowed pilgrims to visit in the crypt of the church for one year. I'm quite confident that millions shuffled past his body in that year, and we were part of that blessed crowd. What surprised me was the number of youth and young adults that were there. It was rainy, but nobody complained, many with boy/girl friends, all under the watchful eyes of Italian Mama's and Nonna's.
What also surprised me was the peace that was in the crypt. You'd think a room with a dead body would be creepy...but not this one. This man has been declared a saint, his body incorrupt 40 years after his death. There was nothing creepy about it. I felt so calm and peaceful, I sat with him for almost an hour while crowds shuffled by. It was edifying to finally get to "meet" one of my spiritual fathers, my mentor of sorts.
The hospital, called the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza or Home of the Relief of Suffering, which was built by the Padre and his rag-tag group of friends and workers, stands right beside the monastery. It's impressively gigantic, and apparently still one of the best hospitals in all of Italy. If you've never read about how this hospital was started, it is a truly amazing miracle - check it out. My favourite part is that this grand place was built by a man with little more than a grade 8 education.
Pictured is the Cross where the Padre received the Stigmata, which is housed inside the Church where he said mass for decades: Santa Maria della Grazie, or Our Lady of Grace.
Also pictured is only half of what I call The Wall of Correspondence. He wrote and replied to hundreds of thousands of letters in his lifetime, and they're all neatly stored and catalogued. I looked closely at a few and noticed addresses from all over the world, New Jersey, Russia, Romania, everywhere!
Visiting San Giovanni Rotundo had been a dream of mine for a long time...I had been to Italy twice without being able to go. As I left the Franciscan house and museum that day, I smelled the scent of roses, which is said only happens if you are a spiritual child of the Padre. My grandmother has had her own devotion to the Padre, having visited San Giovanni Rotundo while the Padre was still alive and asking him to take each one of her children and grandchildren as his own spiritual children. She even wrote to him once and saw him wave his handkerchief shortly before he died in the 1960's. This trip, and his feast day every year, reminds me that, in his gruff yet loving way, he is still looking out for my family and I.
St. Pio, Pray for us.