A long white, lace mantilla framed the face of a young woman as she kissed the glass-covered mitt. This is one of the fingerless gloves worn by the humble Franciscan priest, renowned throughout the world as Padre Pio. He needed them to cover the bleeding wounds in his stigmatized hands as he celebrated Mass.
The mitt was one of three relics of St. Pio of Pieltrelcina that came to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and were displayed on May 18 and 19. The mitt, along with a piece of cloth used to stanch his wounds and a tiny portion of his bed, were placed on view at St. Andrew Church in Pasadena, admired throughout the world as a superb example of Romanesque Revival architecture, a fitting temporary home for the holy relics.
The interior of St. Andrew’s is a replica of the Basilica of Santa Sabina in Rome, a church dating to the early years of Christianity Prudent. Farseeing pastors successfully resisted attempts to gut its artistry and remake it into “a multipurpose room” and so it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Isabella Marquez, the lovely young woman, is a 17-year-old, homeschooled Catholic who came to pray for the health of a friend. “And for my grandparents,” she added, “and for the conversion of relatives who have fallen away from the Church.” Marquez became drawn to Padre Pio after reading about the zeal he showed for the love of God. She finds his advice, “Pray, hope and don’t worry!” a touchstone for her life.
Father Paul Saustayta, St. Andrew’s pastor, was humbly jubilant. “This is a great blessing for our parish. It is a great honor as well to welcome pilgrims to our parish to venerate Padre Pio’s relics.” Gesturing around at the many helpful parishioners, Father Saustayta continued, “Thanks be to God, we’ve been able to put together an army of volunteers to help coordinate what we anticipate to be around 15,000 pilgrims coming to stay for the two days the relics will be on display. It’s been overwhelming and something of a surprise.”
Brenda Gallegos Morales, the pastor’s administrative assistant, concurred. Was she surprised at the appeal St. Pio has for Catholics? “Oh my God, yes! We’re the only stop for the relics in the Western states and we’ve had calls from people from San Francisco, Riverside, Sacramento — indeed, from all over Northern and Southern California. Calls have come in from people in Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington and Texas. None of us realized just how popular Padre Pio is!”
The cool brick and marble precincts of St. Andrew’s were not, however, the first choice chosen for display and veneration of the relics. “A scheduling conflict at the cathedral prevented the display of the relics there,” Father Saustayta confided. “Scott Turicchi, one of our parishioners, is on the board of the Padre Pio Foundation and he suggested St. Andrew’s as an alternate venue.”
Accompanying the relics is Archbishop Bernardito Auza who is, in ordinary life, the Apostolic Nuncio to the United Nations, the Vatican’s Permanent Observer to the goings on that take place in the world body. “There is a shrine to Padre Pio on the island of Bohol, Philippines, where I was born, and another, gigantic one in Manila. I’ve celebrated Mass at both. I have long had a devotion to this holy priest,” said Archbishop Auza.
“Padre Pio spent long hours in the confessional. He had the charism of spiritual insight,” he continued. “Sometimes he would tell penitents their sins before they could open their mouths. Other times he’d prompt a penitent, ‘Didn’t you forget to confess such and such a sin?’ And sometimes he’d storm out of his booth, and pull someone out of the confessional telling them, ‘This isn’t a game! Come back when you’re really sorry and ready to confess all your sins!’”
This kind of down-to-earth spirituality is another reason why St. Pio remains so popular. It’s refreshing to read that, upon receiving the stigmata as a young man, the saint’s first reaction was one of annoyance. Afire with love for our Lord he didn’t mind the pain accompanying the wounds of Jesus made manifest in his body, and was happy to bear it, he later wrote.
St. Pio knew, however, that as soon as anyone saw the stigmata, prayerful contemplation would be difficult for the rest of his life. He prayed to Jesus to make the wounds invisible and for many years they were. But Jesus had other plans for this chosen soul. Padre Pio became one of the most revered and beloved religious figures of the 20th century, and even today he continues to lead people to Jesus.
Eder Zarate, an energetic 11-year-old whose parents became parishioners last year, came to revere Padre Pio’s relics after watching a movie about the saint and being impressed by his holiness and that God chose him to bear the stigmata.
rnLarry Emmerson of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, who helped out at St. Andrew’s, told of a personal favor he attributes to the intercession of St. Pio.
“I’d been worried about the spiritual life of an old war buddy from Vietnam. After praying for Padre Pio’s help, a few days later, out of nowhere, my friend called to tell me of the problems he was having in his life,” he recounted. “I encouraged him to pray to Padre Pio for the spiritual strength to return to the sacraments and make his peace with God. I’m happy to say that my friend is now a better and emotionally stronger man than he was before, thanks to Padre Pio.”
Throughout his life, St. Pio loved children and they were drawn to his gentle faith in and love for Jesus. The untarnished faith of the young is special to God and is epitomized by Isabel Spillane, St. Andrew’s director of faith formation, who said that her 6-year-old son said he “wanted to see something belonging to a saint before I get to heaven!”
In his homily during a special Mass at St. Andrew’s on May 18, Archbishop Auza spoke of how, from his earliest youth, St. Pio had devoted himself to loving Jesus as much as he could. “And God repaid that love with the cross.”
The pain St. Pio bore throughout his life was joined to the pain Jesus endured. As St. Paul tells us in Colossians 1:24, 25: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the Church, of which I am a minister in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me to bring to completion for you the word of God.”
The work of Christ is left undone unless we bring all our faith, love, good works and afflictions to the cross, the marks of which St. Pio bore as a visible sign of our Lord’s all-consuming love.
Sean M. Wright is a member of the RCIA team at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Santa Clarita. He presents workshops and enrichment courses on Catholic topics at parishes throughout the archdiocese.
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