St. Padre Pio - Into the Mystic

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This year’s St. Padre Pio Festival in Vineland will be a first as the saint’s heart is brought in from Italy.
By Jeff Schwachter

“Pray, pray to the Lord with me, because the whole world needs prayer. And every day, when your heart especially feels the loneliness of life, pray. Pray to the Lord, because even God needs our prayers.”
Those are the words of St. Pio of Pietrelcina, or St. Padre Pio as he is better known throughout the world.
Although the Italian friar, priest, stigmatist and mystic was born in 1887 and died in 1968, his messages still resound loud and clear. For the 14th consecutive year Vineland’s Our Lady of Pompeii Church (4680 Dante Ave., 856-691-7526), and its St. Padre Pio Parish will host the St. Padre Pio Festival, a daylong festival (12 to 6 p.m.) beginning with a Mass and Procession at 11 a.m. and including an Italian Mass at 2 p.m., on Sunday, September 25. (Visit pppnj.org for more information.)
Canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002, St. Padre Pio is celebrated throughout the world—most famous for having the Stigmata of Jesus, representing the wounds Jesus Christ received during his Crucifixion.
He continues to be a major source of inspiration for Catholics worldwide with his “Pray, hope and don’t worry” mantra—especially during the annual Padre Pio feasts and festivals held globally at this time of year.
While statues and altars of Padre Pio can be found around the globe, including the St. Padre Pio Shrine on Route 40 in Landisville, this year marks the first time any major relic of Padre Pio has left Italy: The country’s Capuchin Friars will have the actual heart of the late mystic at the Vineland festival.
While the heart was initially supposed to be in only the Boston area for its first trip to the States (September 21 through 23, for its feast), Rev. Robert Sinatra of Vineland’s St. Padre Pio Parish helped to convince the keepers of Padre Pio’s relics (the Capuchins) to bring it to Vineland’s festival the following day.
Fr. Fortunato Grottola of Italy’s Capuchin Friars is responsible in part for bringing the heart of Padre Pio to Cumberland County. He stopped in at the SNJ Today offices last week with Rev. Sinatra to sit down for an interview and discuss the importance of the relic, the life of Padre Pio, and why his spiritual counsel and words are still relevant. He also talked about his own unique connection to the saint.
Grottola was in Cumberland County making preparations for the Sunday, September 25 festival. The following are excerpts from our interview. (Thanks to Bruna DiMauro for translating the words of Fr. Grottola. SNJ Today’s CFO & COO Frank DiMauro conducted the interview, which can be seen on TV 22 in Cumberland County or online at SNJToday.com.)
[caption id="attachment_31525" align="alignright" width="400"]Padre Pio died in 1968 and was buried. In 2008 his body was exhumed and it was discovered that his body did not decay. It is now on display in a glass box in Italy. This is picture of Padre Pio’s face as it looks now – almost 50 years after he died. Padre Pio died in 1968 and was buried. In 2008 his body was exhumed and it was discovered that his body did not decay. It is now on display in a glass box in Italy. This is picture of Padre Pio’s face as it looks now – almost 50 years after he died.[/caption]
SNJ TODAY: Tell us a little about your role in the church and with the Capuchin Friars?
FR. FORTUNATO GROTTOLA: I want to depict St. Padre Pio as a testimony of Jesus Christ. It’s very important now to have someone in this generation to be able to walk with the people.… With [Padre Pio’s] life and death, he is telling us that Jesus is close. Jesus is with us; he’s not far and he is accompanying us. I think that today we need to know that we have somebody next to us. Many times we say that our Lord is close to us, but many times we don’t feel him close. Padre Pio is telling us that we are not alone and that we have Jesus walking side by side with us. In a world where everything is about business, everybody thinks about [accumulating] and 'to keep' and 'to have,' and everybody is thinking about feeling well economically. And even though we have all of this money, we’re still not happy and we’re still alone.
You met St. Padre Pio. How old were you and what was that first encounter like?
I was 13 years old when I encountered St. Padre Pio. When I met him he was 73 years old. He looked great and felt good. And I was saying to myself: ‘they’re telling me he has the Stigmata, and that they’re real. Why is he kidding around with other people and laughing?’
So, you didn’t believe it was real?
It’s not that I didn’t believe it, but I said, as soon as I get to meet him, I’m going to squeeze his hand to see exactly how he would react. In those days you kissed the priest’s hands and I encountered him and I squeezed his hand. He was wearing gloves, but I could tell where the wound would be and I squeezed on it. And in his Naples dialect, he says, ‘hey, young man! My hands are hurting!’ So, my doubt left me when I was squeezing his hands. I knew that I had hurt him and that he really had the wound.
Now, Padre Pio had five wounds? Two on his hands and two on his feet and one on his side?
In 1921 he was questioned and they did check him and he did have those five wounds at the time.
Was Padre Pio instrumental in your decision to become a priest?
Yes, although my parents did not really want me to become a priest. At first, to pacify me, they said, ‘All right, you can go to the seminary just to study, and then you can come out. But my desire was to become a priest. Padre Pio made a big impact on me.
Your heart had to have changed after going into the seminary.
Yes, but I was still uncertain and not sure even though I pursued the priesthood. I went to see Padre Pio with some other youngsters while we were in the seminary. It was the day of Vocation. The group of us who went to see him were young men who wanted to become priests, and we had to prepare a little speech, then Padre Pio would say something. Somebody asked Padre Pio, ‘who do you think among this group will become a priest?’ He told one young man to keep up his studies but [to go back home and take care of his ailing parents] as they were sick. He told another one, ‘you are an only child,’ so just be a good person. As far as me and one other young man, he said: ‘When you become a priest, pray for me.’ But I was young and I didn’t know exactly what he meant. This happened before 1968 and I became a priest in 1977. So Padre Pio was saying what was going to happen 10 years later.
St. Padre Pio was known for supernatural and mystical events throughout his life. Are there any supernatural stories that you can share with us?
Many times what was extraordinary for us, was just ordinary for him. For example, when Padre Pio got sick his fever would go to [125.0 degrees Fahrenheit]. The temperature was so high it would shatter the thermometer. For him it was normal. When he was in the military as a young man and was sick he used to say, ‘don’t use a thermometer, it’s going to break and I don’t want to buy another new one.’ His friends in the service always asked him to try a thermometer to see it explode.
St. Padre Pio died in 1968 and then in 2008 his body was exhumed and they have found it to be in a state that was incorruptible, meaning he didn’t decay.
After 40 years his body was almost completely intact.
Have you ever seen his body?
I did see it and it was almost intact.
There are many around the world who attribute miracles and miraculous healings to Padre Pio. Are there any that you know about through your travels that you can share with us?
There are many miracles and many graces, yes, but most people always talk about the miracles and not the graces. A miracle, for example, would be something like if somebody has one short arm and then God makes it longer. That’s a miracle. The graces have to do with something that is normal, it heals, but it takes time. It’s not immediate like a miracle. Another example would be if you didn’t go to church and confession, once in the presence of Padre Pio you would want to go to church. That would be considered a grace.
We have had the St. Padre Pio Festival in Vineland for many years and it has a large following. This year, we’ll have Padre Pio’s heart at the event for the first time. What is the significance of the heart?
Some relics belong to the body and other relics could be something like a piece of clothing that has touched St. Padre Pio. A third relic would be something like a piece of clothing that has touched the other piece of clothing. Now, because someone in Boston requested the heart of St. Padre Pio at their festival this month, and we are bringing it there, it was appropriate to bring the heart here to Vineland as well because Vineland has been holding the festival for so many years with the St. Padre Pio Parish.
I am hoping that this heart is coming just like Padre Pio went to the Vatican, and that he re-opens people’s eyes and resurrects them so the faithful people and all the people have a stronger faith. The idea is to have the people re-awaken to the goodness and come back to God and to make confessions and reform your life.
I would imagine you have been to numerous Padre Pio festivals around the world. You were here for last year’s festival; is there anything that we do here that makes the Vineland festival unique?
Sure, it is more special here and I do notice the difference. Along with the prayers and everything else, you also have food. We share food; and that’s very special. I will also give the opportunity for Italians here in Vineland to be able to have confession in Italian, so that’s also exciting. And I will have the opportunity to bless the sick people that need prayers and touch them with the glove of St. Padre Pio. And everything that God wants us to do we will do.
 
[caption id="attachment_31526" align="aligncenter" width="640"]The preserved heart of St. Padre Pio will be in Vineland this weekend. The preserved heart of St. Padre Pio will be in Vineland this weekend.[/caption]