The pilgrims who attended Padre Pio's canonization in St. Peter's Square this Sunday broke all records.
The Capuchin friar's beatification on May 2, 1999, attracted 300,000 faithful. Another 100,000 had to follow the ceremony on giant TV screens in St. John Lateran Square, given the lack of space in the Vatican.
World Youth Day 2000, which drew 2 million young people to the outskirts of the city was the previous record for a Vatican ceremony.

It is impossible to estimate the size of the crowd for Sunday's ceremony. The House for the Relief of Suffering of San Giovanni Rotondo, which Padre Pio founded, issued 250,000 free tickets for the Mass. Organizers put up 12 giant TV screens in the Via della Conciliazione, which runs into St. Peter's Square, to facilitate the viewing of the ceremony. Early on Sunday morning, 4,000 buses and 50 special trains arrived in Rome.

Beginning on Thursday and continuing until Saturday, a special solemn rite in preparation for the canonization was held every day in the Basilica of St. Mary Major. It includes the rosary, led by Father Pietro Bongiovanni, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups, and Mass. Some 150 groups, in parishes, universities, hospitals and homes for the elderly throughout Rome, prepared for the event.

In the Church of St. Francis' Holy Stigmata in Rome, where a Mass was celebrated in 1968 for the deceased friar's soul, the flow of pilgrims is constant. "People come in at all hours. They remain recollected in prayer for a few moments and then leave," the church's rector, Father Antonino Ubaldi, said. There was a thanksgiving liturgy in this church at 5:30 p.m. on June 21, similar to the first Mass 30 years ago, which was presided over by Cardinal Fiorenzo Angelini, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers.

The Diocese of Rome held an exhibition entitled "Padre Pio: The Great Light," which displays relics, photographs and objects that belonged to the saint. The exhibition included scientific aspects of some of the mysteries of the Capuchin's life.

At the very moment that John Paul II proclaimed Padre Pio's sanctity, the Indian Diocese of Tura, in the state of Meghalaya, placed the first stone of a church, an outpatient clinic, and a school dedicated to the friar of Pietrelcina.

What would Padre Pio think of all this commotion? Father Florio Alessandro Tessari, the general postulator of the friar's cause of canonization, replied: "He would not have liked it. He was a very reserved person and he would have fled from so much noise. What is important is that we not forget that we must not place him above all," the priest added. "Jesus Christ is the authentic and sole protagonist of salvation."

Saint Padre Pio and Obedience

I have considered Padre Pio's legacy all my life, as he was one of the two reasons for my coming back to the Catholic Church - the other being Fatima. His love of the Mass, his love of confessions, his suffering and the stigmata, his many miracles, his constant conversations with the angels, his prayers and love of the souls in Purgatory, his spiritual direction, his very proof of God in the middle of two world wars by atheists who were out to prove there is no God, all these things are legacies of Padre Pio. But the greatest legacy is his obedience to his superior, and to Rome at a time when many very conservative and traditional Catholics were attacking the Holy Father for the changes in the Church.

Falsely accused of disrupting the Mass, Padre Pio was ordered by the Holy Father to say Mass privately in his room and without a single objection he did so for six years. His superior trying to hold down the crowds to his daily Mass ordered them said at 4:00 AM and Padre Pio never even asked why.

At a time when the world was attacking Pope Paul VI for the changes to the Mass, Padre supported him with a letter dated 12 September 1968, just 11 days before Padre Pio died on 23 September. This is that letter by Padre Pio to Pope Paul VI:

"I well understand what profound afflictions you carry in your heart these days for the lot of the Church, for world peace, for the many necessities of the people, but above all for the lack of spirit of obedience of a certain number of Catholics as to the enlightened teachings that you, assisted by the Holy Spirit, and in the name of God, have given us.

Permit me, as your humble spiritual son, to offer you my daily prayer and suffering, imploring God to comfort you with His grace in order that you may go forward, in your straight and arduous path, in the defense of those eternal truths that remain unaltered with the changing times.

I thank you also, in the name of my spiritual children and 'Prayer Groups' for the clear and decided words you have given us in Humanae Vitae and I reaffirm my faith, my unconditional obedience to your illuminated instructions.

May Our Lord concede the triumph of the truth, peace to His Church, tranquility of heart to all the people, health and prosperity to Your Holiness, in order that with the passing of these clouds the Kingdom of God may triumph in all hearts through your apostolic work as Supreme Pastor of all Christianity."

This was the last letter Padre Pio ever wrote. I am sure Padre Pio would say the same thing Lucia said, "He who is not with the Pope is not with God." Or Faustina who was told by Christ, "The devil can imitate humility but he cannot imitate obedience."

I am making a special point about Padre Pio on obedience to the Holy Father because of his love of Fatima, and in Fatima we find Jacinta praying at the well and there seeing the Holy Father being attacked by his own people and later again seeing a vision of the Holy Father suffering the attacks of his own Church. In the secret of Fatima, we again see a vision of him being attacked by his own and in fact killed. I will not be one of those attacking my vicar for any reason whatsoever. Even here in Fatima I live next door to a Sedevicantist, a very nice man, he never lies and truly believes what he preaches. Nevertheless, he has left the Church believing he knows more than the Church itself. Like the Holy Father does to Protestants and Jews, I will treat him with love and kindness in order to keep open a dialogue where by can bring him back to the faith. My love for him is the very thing that he and others hate about the Holy Father and his love for those who have left the Church.

The Shrine of San Giovanni Rotondo

When I went to San Giovanni Rotondo to ask the superior about some claims people made about the good Padre, I arrived late in the day. Out front was a priest who spoke English and I asked, "Father, I have not been to Mass yet, is there a Mass yet today that I can attend." I was somewhat irritated that he did not answer me but just smiled and motioned to go inside. Inside there was continuous Masses going on in his chapel, in the main church, and below on both sides of his tomb. It was off season so the 30 or 40 confessionals had only about 20 priests hearing confessions. I stayed three weeks.

Padre Pio of Pietrelcina is among the most loved saints throughout the world. The Shrine of San Giovanni Rotondo in southern Italy, where Padre Pio lived, receives over 6 million pilgrims a year. It is now third in terms of visits by the faithful, after the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico and the Vatican.

"What is the secret of so much admiration and love for this new saint?" the Holy Father asked. "Above all, he is a 'friar of the people,' a traditional characteristic of Capuchins. Moreover, he is a holy miracle-worker, as proved by the extraordinary events that filled his life. However, above all, he was a religious who was sincerely in love with the crucified Christ."

"In the course of his life he participated in the mystery of the cross, including physically," the Pope said.

Karol Wojtyla, the future John Paul II, visited the friar in 1947, and went to confession to him in San Giovanni Rotondo where Padre Pio told him, "You will someday be the Pope."

Padre Pio followed this path "in profound communion with the Church," the Pontiff clarified. "He was not hindered in this filial obedience by momentary misunderstandings with one or another ecclesial authority."
In fact, Padre Pio endured investigations and restrictions in the exercise of his priestly ministry, imposed by the Holy Office, because of false accusations by people who were resentful of his extraordinary impact on others.

In particular, the Holy Father proposed the new saint as a model for every priest, singling out Padre Pio's Mass! "The Holy Mass was the heart and source of his all spirituality," John Paul II emphasized. "St. Pio of Pietrelcina appears before all of us -- priests, religious and laity -- as a credible witness of Christ and his Gospel," the Pope continued. "His example and intercession encouraged every one to live with an ever greater love for God and in concrete solidarity with one's neighbor, especially the neediest."

"Padre Pio's proposal for the man of our times, disoriented by materialism and secularization, is holiness," said Father Raniero Cantalamessa who, like the friar of Pietrelcina, is a Capuchin religious. "With his example, Padre Pio wishes to tell us that holiness is a way that is also accessible today. "

Padre Pio's holiness is so extraordinary that it might even be frightening. He is the Simon of Cyrene of this century. His stigmata are the proof, but also his very long days in the confessional. And then his nights dedicated to penance, prayer, struggles with the devil. This is his mysticism of expiation.

Who is Padre Pio?

By Father Cottier

Because he knew how to live with key virtues such as humility and poverty, and because he has put forward again, with totally singular effectiveness, the importance of the sacraments of the Eucharist and penance: to live according to the beatitudes, to seek salvation in a eucharistic life, to count on God's mercy. This was his secret.

Padre Pio, like the figure of other contemporary saints -- I am thinking of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus -- is a grace that God has given the Church of today; also, because he is a saint who touches all men's hearts. Few have this charism.

His love for confession leads us to look at the merciful face of God: It is a message that surpasses all ideological objections and encourages us to hope even in face of the continual manifestation of human miseries. If the last word on the world and on each one of us is one of mercy, then we have reasons for hope; if not, bitterness and discouragement prevail. This is what Padre Pio tells us. It is a message addressed to all.

The Church has always prayed to the saints to obtain special favors from heaven. It is right to continue to do so but without falling prey to automatism. We know that the prayer of a saint before God is much more effective than our own. Above all, the Church teaches that when a saint is canonized, God wills to manifest grace through his mediation. Therefore, it is good to "take advantage" of this moment when the Church is concerned with an infallible pronouncement of the Pope, indicating a sure way to us. (This is why I made a nine day novena ending on his canonization day.)

Work for the Sick
by Monsignor Riccardo Ruotolo

Padre Pio left humanity two special gifts: the House for the Relief of Suffering, a center for medical and spiritual assistance in this southern Italian town; and the Prayer Groups scattered throughout the world.

The director of both these legacies today is Monsignor Riccardo Ruotolo. Here, he talks about his experience: "Padre Pio wished to leave the clinic to the Holy See. Padre Pio said, 'If I leave the work in the Pope's hands I am certain it will not fail.'"

Q: A gift involving commitment ...

Monsignor Ruotolo: I knew nothing about hospitals. I said this to Cardinal Giuseppe Caprio when he asked me to come here, on Dec. 15, 1977, to study the situation. I told him I had never even been in San Giovanni Rotondo.

Q: And what did the substitute of the Vatican State secretariat reply to you?

Monsignor Ruotolo: "Good, so you go there with a fresh mind, free of prejudices." He asked me to make a report in six months. The Holy See had to decide if it was to keep the administration of the House of Relief or hand it over to the regional government.

Q: Were there debts?

Monsignor Ruotolo: Six months later, when I presented the financial report, I had paid those debts and come to an agreement with the region. The then Monsignor Caprio told me: Good. Now go back to San Giovanni Rotondo and continue to work.

Q: You have been there for 25 years.

Monsignor Ruotolo: Providence decides.

Q: And what have you accomplished in these years?

Monsignor Ruotolo: I have tried to respect faithfully Padre Pio's wish. On May 5, 1957, he expressed in writing the plan, the hope, to double the number of beds. Today the beds have trebled, thanks to the faithful's donations: There are more than 1,000.

Q: So far as I know, the House of Relief is the only hospital where there are guided tours: from the kitchens to the operating theaters. The visitor can see it all.

Monsignor Ruotolo: It is the first hospital in the south of Italy in terms of attracting patients. Twenty-three percent of those hospitalized and patients come from outside the region, including from the North; especially in the oncological sector, which in addition to 34 beds in the department, has a day-clinic with 20 beds; medical visits, examinations, treatments. We have four nuclear accelerators to shorten the waiting lists.

Q: To shorten the waiting lists?

Monsignor Ruotolo: We are trying to do away with them. I think we are the first hospital in Italy to do so.

Q: Is this due to good administration or to a miracle of Padre Pio?

Monsignor Ruotolo: Listen, that question was already asked of Padre Pio: "When you are no longer here, what will happen to this gigantic work?" his friends would ask him. And he would answer: "When I am no longer here, I will pray to Providence, who will help you more and better than at present."

Q: Is there some evidence of this intervention?

Monsignor Ruotolo: Who knows, perhaps Mr. Krupp.

Q: Mr. Krupp?

Monsignor Ruotolo: Gary Krupp, an American Jew from New York, is the intermediary of advanced electromedical equipment: He has sold us nuclear medicine machines, radiology equipment, two new mammographic machines. He says he is "in love" with Padre Pio and gives us a hand.

Q: A hand?

Monsignor Ruotolo: For example, he gave us a discount of more than $1 million on the magnetic resonance machine. He has often said publicly that he is "in love" with Padre Pio. I am convinced that it will take years to fully understand certain things. What I think is that people's closeness to Padre Pio is due, primarily, to the fact that many times he offered himself as a victim for the conversion of sinners, and to the simplicity with which he translated those concepts in very simple phrases, in exhortations that are accessible to all.

Prayer Groups a Worldwide Legacy of Padre Pio

There are 2,700 prayer groups worldwide inspired by the spirituality of Padre Pio.
The prayer groups sprang first from an appeal of Pius XI, to stave off war, and then from Pius XII, at the end of World War II. Faithful were encouraged to meet in small communities of prayer to ask the Lord for assistance in the moral reconstruction of society.

"Padre Pio formed a small prayer group in the '20s," said Father Marciano Morra, the secretary of Padre Pio Prayer Groups. "Pius XI had exhorted people to pray to forestall the war. 'To pray together to move the heart of God,' the Pope said. And Padre Pio responded: 'We must be the first.'"

"At the time, the monastery's guesthouse was still in existence -- today demolished -- a building that was not part of the cloister and could accommodate guests," the priest recalled.

"The guesthouse had a fireplace," he said. "Padre Pio gathered about 10 women there, around the lit fireplace. They were simple, village people. He taught them the catechism, read them the Gospel, and helped them to understand the Old Testament. Imagine, in the '20s!"

The idea was improved in the 1940s: Padre Pio gave precise instructions to Guglielmo Sanguinetti, the energetic physician who was the soul of the nascent hospital of San Giovanni Rotondo, founded by the Capuchin.

"He indicated the characteristic that distinguished his movement today," Father Morra said of Padre Pio. "He established that the groups should be directed by a priest appointed by the local bishop."

The priest said Padre Pio himself explained the motive when he gave his instructions: "We want to avoid all prominence and any possible deviation due to personal initiatives that might falsify the ends."

The ends were, and are, to pray "in the Church, with the Church, for the Church," Father Morra said.

Padre Pio was the first to be aware that the "Padre Pio cult" could end in sectarianism, narrow-mindedness and wonderworking, the priest said.

"He avoided it," Father Morra continued. "If the bishop of the locality did not want the prayer group -- this happened, especially, at the beginning -- Padre Pio would dissolve it."

The prayer groups have flexibility. "One of these groups meets in the police quarters, created by the commander and his wife and children. There is another in the FAO headquarters in Rome, made up of employees who meet during their lunch break," he said, referring to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

What do they do? "They pray," Father Morra said. "They meet four times a month for Mass, the rosary and a meditation on Scripture. Padre Pio was content with small steps for the laity. Little by little, prayer in common becomes active charity."

When Padre Pio died in 1968, there were close to 700 groups. Now, there are 2,300 in Italy alone.

"But the figures say little," said Father Gerardo Ruotolo, the vice postulator of the friar's cause of canonization. "I recently went to Poland to visit three groups that we knew about, and I found 24. In Argentina, where supposedly there was one, I found 70. Groups that are maturing and hope to be stable in order to ask for recognition."

Father Morra said that the prayer groups are meeting with unexpected success because they are based on a simple but crucial idea in an age of individualism: to pray "together."

Information taken from Zenit Daily and emails by friends.