Saturday, September 13, 2003


THE POWER OF PADRE PIO

MODERN DAY SAINT SETS EXAMPLE FOR PRAYER MEETINGS
 
(Original newspaper article. Click image for enlargment)
 
 
By ALAN K. STOUT
Times Leader Staff Writer
September 13, 2003

NANTICOKE - Padre Pio is considered by millions of Catholics to be one of the most fascinating people of the 20th century. In 1918, the stigmata - the same five wounds inflicted upon Christ during the crucifixion - appeared on Pio's body and stayed there until his death in 1968.  For 50 years, blood came from Pio's wounds, and as his legend began to grow, so did stories of miracles, which were attributed to his prayers and interventions. On June 16, 2002, Pope John Paul II declared Padre Pio a saint, the highest honor in the Catholic Church.


 What makes Pio's story more intriguing is that it is a contemporary story, not one passed down through the centuries. Pio is a modern-day saint, and images of his wounds can be found in numerous books that include photographs - even videotapes - showing Pio bearing the scars of Christ.

The source of the wounds is for you and your faith to decide. Yet there is no doubt the wounds existed, and that they sometimes caused Pio great discomfort.

The Rev. William J.P. Langan, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church and St. Joseph's Slovak Church, Nanticoke, is the spiritual director of a Padre Pio Prayer Group that meets each month. For Langan, who attended Pio's canonization in Rome, Pio's legacy doesn't rest on the stigmata nor tales of miracles, but rather on the way he led his life and the examples he set.

“He had an ability to bring people back to the faith who had been estranged from it for a long time - mostly by the power of the celebration of Mass, because he celebrated it so beautifully,” says Langan, who adds that Pio was also devoted to the sacrament of confession.  “He would sit in the confessional for up to 18 hours a day,” he says. “People would make reservations a month or two months ahead of time, to be able to get in to see him.”

Two of the greatest mysteries surrounding Pio is a miracle that reportedly occurred in 1947, when Pio prayed over a blind girl who was born without eye pupils. After the prayer, she was able to see, which doctors were unable to explain. Another mystery attributed to Pio are reports that upon his death in 1968, all signs of the stigmata disappeared from his body. There were no scars or signs of the wounds that had been there for 50 years.

In addition to those tales, there are reports that Pio was blessed with the gift of bi-location, and was sometimes seen in two places at the same time. And there are reports that those who pray to him for intercession sometimes experience a strong scent of flowers.

Still, Langan says that during Pio's life, the church was cautious in the way it handled his fame and growing legend, and that Pio was often a tormented soul.

“For many years, he was silenced because of the stigmata,” says Langan.  “They didn't want it to turn into a big circus, so he was told to just go about his simple work of hearing confessions and saying daily Mass. So he suffered - not just the wounds of Christ, exteriorly, but he also had a lot of interior suffering - just as many people do today. Many people have psychological or interior suffering, and if there's anyone that could speak to someone who's suffering like that, it would be Padre Pio, because he went through it himself.”

Langan says it was Pio's dignity and devotion to God, not simply the signs of the miraculous, that led to his canonization.

“It was his personal sanctity, not the manifestation of the stigmata,” says Langan. “His personal holiness in the midst of great suffering, both external and internal suffering, and his ability to remain holy and confident in God - that is the mark of his sanctity.”

The local Padre Pio Prayer Group meets once a month in Nanticoke. Meetings last about 90 minutes and include a scriptural reading, recitation of the rosary and prayers for those in need. Those who believe they have received an intercession for Padre Pio are welcome to share their stories with the group. Margaret Aciukewicz, who serves as vice group leader, says the group began meeting in May and it usually attracts 80 to 150 people.

“This man was a special man,” says Aciukewicz of Pio. “He was in love with God. Even though he suffered and had all of those pains, he still never gave up. He gives you hope. How many times in your life have you had difficulties, and you said `Oh Lord, can I do this?,' and you look at him and how he carried the marks of the real crucifixion, and yet he was a joyful man, and a man who was able to communicate with people, and he gave them encouragement.”

Sister Elizabeth A. Brody, group leader of the prayer group, says she became involved because she wanted to learn more about Pio. She describes the gatherings as “a very prayerful, peaceful and quieting environment.” She says she feels a connection to Pio because of his contemporary status and his selflessness.

“He was someone who lived in our time, and who is now a saint,” says Brody. “He had great dedication to the Eucharist and a great wanting to help people.”

That help, says Langan, continues today, 35 years after Pio's death.

“His life was extraordinary, but I do try to model my life somewhat after his compassionate attitude towards people,” says Langan. “He certainly helps me in my everyday duties as a priest.”

 
IF YOU GO:

WHAT: Padre Pio Prayer Group
WHEN: Meets at 3 p.m., third Sunday of the month.
WHERE: Site alternates between Francis of Assisi Church and St. Joseph's Slovak Church, Nanticoke. Next meeting is Sept. 21 at St. Joseph's.
INFO: 735-0331 or 735-6903
MORE INFO: The National Centre for Padre Pio is in Barto in the Diocese of Allentown, about a 75-minute ride from Wilkes-Barre. The Centre is the home of one of Pio's confessional booth, which has been imported from Italy, and one of Pio's protective gloves, which he wore to help control the bleeding of his stigmata.
ON THE NET: For more info, visit www.padrepio.org


(Originally published in The Times Leader, Wilkes-Barre, PA - September 13, 2003.)