SAN GIOVANNI ROTONDO, MAY 2 (ZENIT). Francesco Forgione was born in
Pietrelcina, a little village in the province of Benevento, Italy, on May
25, 1887. His father, Grazio, was a small farmer. Francesco spent his
childhood in the fields, the church and the school. At 15 he entered the
novitiate of the Capuchin Fathers in Morcone, where he received the
Franciscan habit in 1903, with the name Friar Pio.
Following his religious profession in 1907, his delicate health obliged him
to spend long periods of convalescence in his village. On August 10, 1910
he was ordained a priest in the cathedral of Benevento.
During the summer of 1918, he was sent to the convent of San Giovanni
Rotondo, in Foggia, which he was never to leave. On September 20 he
received the gift of the stigmata. The wounds appeared in 1910; he prayed
that they would be invisible, but they remained visible. His fame as a
religious with stigmas began to spread and to attract crowds of pilgrims,
obliging the Church and science to address the phenomenon.
But his reputation for sanctity was coupled with harsh criticisms,
including by men of the Church. He lived his life totally dedicated to his
priesthood, the Eucharist, confession, prayer, and the spiritual direction
of the faithful. Thus, spontaneously, "prayer groups" sprang up: small
communities of faithful who met for Mass, the Rosary, and meditation on the
Word of God.
In 1940 Padre Pio began his charitable work: he collected funds for the
construction of a hospital: the House for the Relief of Suffering, a huge
work carried out with the contributions of followers of all the continents.
Padre Pio spent the last years of his life in sickness, prayer, and
spiritual direction. He died on September 23, 1968.
The cause for his beatification began on March 20, 1983. The diocesan
phase, which included the collection of testimonies and examination of his
writings, lasted seven years. These documents were given to the Holy See in
1990. After the corresponding procedures, Padre Pio was declared Venerable
on December 18, 1997. A year later, in December, 1998, with a decree
recognizing a "post mortem" (after death) miracle which took place thanks
to his intercession, the date of Padre Pio's beatification was announced:
May 2, 1999.ZE99050207
Padre Pio, the man John Paul II
beatified today, left humanity his legacy in two ways: the hospital "House
for the Relief of Suffering," and the Prayer Groups -- associations of the
laity recognized by the Holy See.
From the very beginning, the hospital has been sustained by charity. It is
not just a place where sick bodies are cared for, but also center of
spirituality which fully carries out the Gospel's message of love. The
collection of funds started in 1940, the building in 1947, and the
inauguration took place in 1956. It began with 250 beds, but in a year's
time, it had to be urgently expanded.
Today, the hospital cares for some 60,000 patients every year, 20% of whom
have cancer. It combines the latest technology with love for the patient.
Padre Pio wanted a "center of international study which would help health
care workers to perfect their professional knowledge and their Christian
formation," Giulio Siena, the hospital's spokesman, said.
"Whoever works here breathes spirituality. There are times for prayer and
spiritual exercises reserved for the personnel, the chaplains take
communion daily to the patients, and the Rosary is prayed daily in the
The House for the Relief of Suffering, which is integrated into the Italian
health system, was donated to the Pope by Padre Pio; as such, it is an
organism administered by the Holy See. At present there are schools of
professional nurses, obstetrics and technicians in radiology annexed to the
hospital. In 1991 a home for the elderly was added with 250 beds.
In addition to the hospital, Prayer Groups are the other half of Padre
Pio's spiritual legacy. According to Fabio Comparato, who is responsible
for the Center which coordinates and registers the Groups, these "were
founded in the 1920s in response to Padre Pio's request for prayer, and
especially, group prayer. He wanted the Prayer Groups to be linked to the
Padre Pio's prayer groups were officially recognized by the Holy See in
1986. According to the official statute, a "Prayer Group" is made up of
faithful who meet under the guidance of a priest to receive spiritual
formation and live an integral Christian life, with the permission of the
Bishop of the diocese and in obedience to the Church.
At present there are 3,000 Prayer Groups with 400,000 members worldwide.
They promote initiatives of a spiritual or charitable character, and are in
constant touch with the center. International coordination is carried out
through a rich network of correspondence, an annual congress, which this
year will meet in San Giovanni Rotondo from June 29 to July 2, and a magazine published in four
languages: Italian, English, French and German.