Padre Pio: The Saint of Our Time

WANDA POLTAWSKA

I could observe Padre Pio from a short distance. He was an old man at the time and walked very slowly. He celebrated Holy Mass with incredible intensity and with an expression of suffering on his face.

Though Padre Pio is not yet officially canonized, I write about him as a saint. It is my personal conviction that this Capuchin monk, a stigmatist from Italy, is an extraordinary and holy man. I use the word is purposely because it is part of his uniqueness that he is still present in the world. People feel his presence. Many are aware of his intervention in an extraordinary way. To some this may seem impossible, but the lives of saints are full of unusual events.

Many books have been written about Padre Pio, and new publications appear all the time. What can I add to these volumes?

It is easier to describe someone’s writings, or to describe his achievements — for instance, the building of the hospital, Casa della Sollievo — than to reveal one’s personal experiences that belong to what is most profound and intimate.

Many journalists, pursuing perhaps the sensational, have tried to convince me to give an interview. I will not dwell here on the fact that in 1962 I was to undergo surgery for what was presumed to be a tumorous growth. However, I was told just before surgery that I was healthy and could go home. I was not, at that time, conscious of anything unusual. Rather, I was ready to think that what my colleagues, the surgeons, had stated: namely that there was a five percent chance that it was merely an inflammation, and that this turned out to be the case.

I had no idea that two letters in Latin had been written on my behalf to Padre Pio by the Archbishop of Cracow, Karol Wojtyla, the first with a request, and the second with thanks. At this time, our Archbishop was in Rome attending Vatican II. I did not know then of the existence of such a Capuchin priest, since communist Poland was completely isolated from the West, and information about Padre Pio, already well-known elsewhere in the world, had not yet penetrated into Poland, as far as I knew.

But even when I learned about the letters, I didn’t want to reflect on what happened. It seemed too difficult to comprehend a supernatural intervention. A doctor tends to see natural explanations; nature herself can seemingly perform miracles and surprise doctors. It happens so often: The doctors’ prognosis is positive, but the patient dies; or the opposite, the doctors expect the patient to die, but he recovers. We do not yet definitely know the power of human resistance or the forces of nature.

Therefore, in some sense I laid this question aside without trying to understand it. However, information concerning Padre Pio and his intervention in people’s lives began to reach me from many sources. And then when Archbishop Karol Wojtyla returned to Cracow, I learned of the exchange of letters and who this Padre Pio is.

In 1967, I had my first opportunity to go to Rome, and in May I went to San Giovanni Rotondo, where I arrived toward evening, hoping to participate at Holy Mass the next morning. However, I was told that there were always huge crowds and that it would be almost impossible to enter and be close to the altar.

I was standing in the little square in front of the church when I saw a Capuchin priest coming from a side gate. I approached him and told him that I would love to participate in Padre Pio’s Mass, but I was afraid it would be impossible, that I came from far away Poland, and that I might not be able to get another passport to make the trip in the future. He looked at me and said, “Come to this gate tomorrow at 5 a.m. and I will let you in,” and that’s what actually happened. The next morning, he led me through the sacristy, and I was able to sit near the altar. I could observe Padre Pio from a short distance. He was an old man at the time and walked very slowly. He celebrated Holy Mass with incredible intensity and with an expression of suffering on his face. It is impossible to find adequate words to describe this Mass. This sacrifice of the altar was truly the representation of the Passion of Christ. Even people of deep faith hardly ever can perceive this reality on the altar as a representation of Calvary. They perceive the reality of God’s presence in the consecrated Host and His Blood in the chalice. But here the reality of His Passion, which is beyond our understanding, seemed to be reflected in the Holy Mass celebrated by this old man. It reflected the suffering of the Passion. Perspiration from Padre Pio’s forehead ran down his face, his hands were covered with bandages, and the dark stains of the stigmata were barely visible behind his long sleeves. The agony of the man was visible.

The church, full of people, was silent, unusually silent for Italy, only interrupted now and then by a sob. The Mass lasted a long time, and when it was over, Padre Pio slowly made his way back to the sacristy with short steps. As he was passing by, I happened to be near him. He stopped for a minute, looking around at the people, then looked directly at me. I shall never forget his glance. Smiling, he came even closer to me, patted me on the head, and said,” Adesso, va bene?” (Now, are you all right?) I did not answer. I had no time. What could I say?

But precisely in this moment, I knew he recognized me. In this moment I also knew that it wasn’t because of a wrong diagnosis that I had found myself suddenly well several years earlier, but because this monk had come into my life in such an extraordinary way because the Archbishop of Cracow had asked for it. That is all I can say.

Many years later, when the Archbishop of Cracow had become Pope, I learned from the man who had handed the Archbishop’s first letter to Padre Pio that Padre Pio said, “I cannot say no to this request.”

From then on I put many difficult problems into Padre Pio’s hands. I feel I am one of his spiritual children, even though I have only seen him once. He died a year later.

However, I have contact with him continually. He has done many things for people I asked him to help. They were not miracles for which I can give documentary evidence, but I know for certain that he has helped me. Although I can’t prove it, in my heart I am sure. Besides, our Catholic faith gives us the certainty of the communion of saints. We can ask saints to intercede for us. Hundreds of people are healed through the intercession of saints. I have Padre Pio, a Capuchin monk whom I have met only once in my life, to help me!

 


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Saunders, Rev. William. "Padre Pio: The Saint of Our Time." Arlington Catholic Herald.

This article is reprinted with permission from Arlington Catholic Herald.

THE AUTHOR

Father William Saunders is dean of the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College and pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Sterling, Virginia. The above article is a "Straight Answers" column he wrote for the Arlington Catholic Herald. Father Saunders is also the author of Straight Answers, a book based on 100 of his columns and published by Cathedral Press in Baltimore.

Copyright © 2003 Arlington Catholic Herald




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