I have been sent a life-enhancing book – very necessary in the midst of our current political upheavals – by the indefatigable Frank M. Rega who has done so much to promote Catholic saints and mystics, such as St Padre Pio and St Francis of Assisi. It is Amazing Miracles of Padre Pio and the Stories Behind Them (available from www.frankrega.com and as an ebook).
I asked Frank what had inspired this particular book and he tells me that he decided to compile it “after I realised that in my personal Padre Pio library there were a number of books specifically dealing with miracles, but they were all in Italian. I realised that a book in English on the topic would fill a significant gap.”
As devotees of Padre Pio will know, there are numerous instances of him bi-locating, reading penitents’ souls before they spoke and so on. Why did Frank select the particular stories he includes in the book? He informs me that this “depended primarily on whether there was a good back story on what had led to their occurrence and what had happened thereafter.”
He adds that he was surprised “at the range and type of his gifts” and realised that “many of them do not fall into any known charismatic categories”, for example “making photos come up blank” when people disobeyed PadrePio’s request not to take pictures at certain times. Frank remarks that “an unexpected bonus was that many of the stories had previously only been presented in the Italian books, so they would be new to English-language readers.”
I note that Frank wrote at the front of the book that it is “especially dedicated to those who do not yet believe in miracles.” Does he have any particular acquaintances in mind? He readily agrees that “I had some people in mind who were reluctant to admit a belief in the miraculous”, adding that he hopes of course “that the book will inspire them to a change of heart.” He recalls that he first heard of the saintly Capuchin, famous for having been given the stigmata, around 1980, but doesn’t remember if it came about through reading an article or book or whether “another Catholic introduced him to me in the course of a conversation.”
I draw Frank’s attention to the Novena at the end of his book, said to have been Padre Pio’s own Novena. He explains that “after determining that it was in fact true that he recited it daily, I wanted to add it to the book so that readers would have some concrete way of reaching him through prayer.”
Our conversation reminds me that I first heard of Padre Pio from an anecdote of my late parish priest: he had been a young seminarian at the English College in Rome in the 1950s and had decided to travel to Pietrelcina in central Italy and queue for Confession with the Friar. At its conclusion he impulsively gripped Padre Pio’s gloved hand to thank him, only for the Friar to visibly wince at the pain this caused him from the wound in his palm.
I recommend this book especially to English Catholics, who tend to smile benignly at their more excitable Latin brethren, forgetting that Christ himself worked many miracles during his life. After all, our faith is less about teasing out the meanings of papal encyclicals or deciding that the Church’s moral teachings are a matter of opinion and more about glimpsing the power of God’s love shown us by the saints, such as greatly-loved Padre Pio.