The other side of miraculous monk Padre Pio
Published 25/10/2007 | 09:01
There was a fellow on the BBC on Monday morning promoting a book about, the presenter told us, "the saint and miracle-worker Padre Pio".
Published this month, Padre Pio, the Irish Connection by Colm Keane, " chronicles miracles, cures and visions" experienced by Irish Pio devotees.
The miracle-cure-and-vision which sealed Pio's status as a saint concerned an Italian boy, Matteo Pio Colella who, having been in a coma with suspected meningitis, woke up suddenly, fully recovered, and told doctors that " an old man with a white beard" had "come to him in a dream", telling him he'd get well.
Thomas Hobbes observed that people who say that someone came to them in a dream are saying only that they dreamt that someone came to them.
But Hobbesian scepticism cuts no ice with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
On the basis of his miraculous visitation with the seven-year-old, Pio was canonised on June 16, 2002, by Pope John Paul II.
Not every pope had been so convinced of his saintliness. From 1931 to 1933, the Vatican banned the Capuchin from saying Mass in public or hearing confessions and from all contact with worshippers. John XXIII, elected in 1958, set spies on him.
Pio was twice suspended and then reinstated on charges of sexual misconduct with women in the confessional and faking mystical powers.
The allegations served mainly to stiffen the certainty of Pio's disciples that he was a saint under siege from the forces of darkness. According to the account embraced by believers, Pio's life was a continuous miracle, or a succession of miracles. He had the stigmata. He could fly. He beat the devil at wrestling. He could be in two places at the one time. It was noticeable, though, that he was always in one place and, at the same time, in another place far away. He was never at one side of a room and simultaneously at the other side of the same room. Cynics would mutter sotto voce that he never ran a three-legged race or played himself at tennis or impersonated the Everly Brothers.
Bi-location enabled Pio to visit the United States and the Holy Land without leaving San Giovanni. The 1998 work The Voice of Padre Pio relates that he returned from one flying visit to Palestine disgruntled by his discovery that: "The room of the Last Supper is looked after by Moslems!"
His most famous flight came during World War Two when American planes sent to pulverise San Giovanni noticed a monk in full robes arrowing towards them at 10,000 feet as they began their bombing run. Reasonably enough, they turned tail and headed home.
Pio was a strong advocate of prayers for the Holy Souls, some of whom visited him from Purgatory to express thanks.
The devil in physical shape assaulted him frequently, once flinging him across a bedroom. But the fearsome Beelzebub never got the better of the feisty defender of faith.
Pio's most publicised attribute was the stigmata. He had holes in his hands and feet where the nails pinned Christ to the cross and a wound where the lance pierced his side. Nobody ever saw the wounds. His body and feet were ever enclosed in his bulky Capuchin robes, and he wore mitts 24/7.
He never permitted medical examination of the wounds, which he claimed bled continuously for 50 years, particularly profusely on Fridays. After he died, no trace of the wounds could be found. As his followers immediately noted, this was a miracle. The Vatican's sceptical, at best, attitude to Pio was transformed with the election of John Paul II in 1978. Pio had heard the young Fr Karol Wojtyla's confession as far back as 1947. Wojtyla came to the papacy profoundly convinced that God was working in the world through the Italian monk.
In 1982, John Paul opened a formal inquiry into Pio's possible sainthood. In 1990, the Vatican declared him a Servant of God; in 1997, he was declared Venerable; in 1999, Blessed; and in 2002, a saint.
The followers of Pio, the object of their veneration having been fast-tracked to sit at the feet of God himself, now assumed the status of an officially-sanctioned mass movement within the Church.
They are defined by their prayerful campaigns for an end to abortion.
Pio had been famous for 'roaring' at women who confessed to having had an abortion.
He had no truck with easy-oozy liberals promiscuously spreading compassion. John Paul urged the priests of the world to accept Pio as their perfect model.
Folk who fancy themselves rational might dismiss the Padre Pio cult as ridiculous, even laughable. Many Catholics are embarrassed by it. But it has its serious side, too.
Coming soon: The Blue Army of Our Lady of Medjugorje: are they the new Ustashe?