Though a relatively new saint in the Catholic Church, St. Padre Pio de Pietrelcina has been revered by countless people around the world. Padre Pio's extraordinary holiness was recognized during his lifetime as people of all faiths sought him out for his spiritual guidance and the intercession of his prayers. Padre Pio bore the stigmata, the five wounds of Christ's passion, on his body, as physical evidence of his sanctity. In the long history of the Catholic Church, very few people have been signed with the stigmata.
Francesco Forgione was born to a farm family in southern Italy. His father, Orazio, was a shepherd In his youth Francesco suffered several health problems and at one point his family thought he had tuberculosis. At age 15 he entered the novitiate of the Capuchin Friars in Morcone and joined the order at 19 years old, taking the name of Pio. He was ordained at the age of 22 on August 10, 1910.
On September 20, 1918, Padre Pio was kneeling in front of a large crucifix in the choir loft when he received the visible marks of the crucifixion, making him the first priest in the history of the Catholic Church to receive the stigmata. The doctor who examined Padre Pio could not find any natural cause for the wounds. Upon his death in 1968, the wounds had disappeared. In fact there was no scaring and the skin was completely renewed, fulfilling a prediction that Padre Pio had made 50 years prior that upon his death the wounds would heal.
Word of Padre Pio quickly spread, especially following World War II after American soldiers brought home stories of Padre Pio. The priest himself soon became a point of pilgrimage for both the pious and the curious. Padre Pio had the ability to read the hearts of the penitents who flocked to him for confession to bring both sinners and devout souls closer to God; he would know just the right word of counsel or encouragement that was needed. He died on September 23, 1968 at the age of eighty-one with the words, "Jesus"-"Mary" on his lips! Over 100,000 people attended his funeral.
Padre Pio's canonization miracle involved the cure of Matteo Pio Colella, age 7, the son of a doctor who worked in the House for the Relief of Suffering, the hospital founded by Padre Pio. On the night of June 20, 2000, Matteo was admitted to the intensive care unit of the hospital with meningitis. By morning doctors had lost hope for him as nine of the boy's internal organs had ceased to give signs of life. That night, during a prayer vigil attended by Matteo's mother and some Capuchin friars of Padre Pio's monastery, the child's condition improved suddenly. When be awoke from the coma, Matteo said that he had seen an elderly man with a white beard and a long, brown habit, who said to him: "Don't worry, you will soon be cured." The miracle was approved by the Congregation for Saints and Pope John Paul II on December 20, 2001. On June 16, 2002 over 500,000 pilgrims gathered in Rome to witness Pope John Paul II proclaim Padre Pio as Saint Pio of Pietrelcina.