Padre Pio is Italy’s most loved saint. But the rest of the world seems to know little about him

A Padre Pio devotee in San Giovanni Rotondo, southern Italy (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

One hundred and twenty-five years ago the world gave birth to a great saint: St Pio from Pietrelcina. I would like to make a small contribution to his reputation abroad. In Italy a poll found him to be our most beloved saint, but I am not sure he is well known outside his home country. He deserves to be remembered and celebrated by Catholics all over the world. Who was he?

He used to define himself as “just a poor praying friar”. St Pio (commonly known as “Padre Pio”) was born May 25 1887 in Pietrelcina, a remote village in the midst of southern Italy. The Capuchin friar became famous for being the first priest in history to bear the stigmata. He performed many miracles and wonders: healings, readings of hearts, prophecies, even bilocations. There are people who testify with conviction to have seen or met him in every corner of the globe, but he never moved from southern Italy. There are still thousands of people who claim to be healed out of the blue after having prayed, thought or dreamed of him. Also many celebrities call themselves devotees of Padre Pio. From 1918 to 1968, when he died, his body bore “stigmata” – that is, visible and bleeding wounds in his hands and feet.

For a while he was persecuted by the Vatican, who suspended him “a divinis” and put in place several restrictions on his activities. But he was a tough cookie, or better, a real saint. So he ended up becoming friend of a pope. Some reports say that in 1948 St Pio prophesied to a young priest named Karol Wojtyla that he would become pope. We don’t know if this is true, because there is no evidence, but we know for sure that in 1962 Bishop Wojtyla wrote to Fr Pio to ask for the healing of a person, who was then actually healed, and medical professionals were unable to offer an explanation for the phenomenon. On June 16 2002, Pope John Paul II canonised him – another good reason to worship him in Britain.