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September 23 is the feast day for Padre Pio, one of the best-known saints of the 20th century. It’s one thing to hear fantastic stories about saints of old who slew dragons (St. George) and got kidnapped by pirates (St. Patrick) and may or may not have had the head of a dog (St. Christopher). But that stuff happened centuries ago, so who can verify it?
But Padre Pio is recent. He did some of his saintly stuff less than half a century ago (he died in 1968 and was canonized in 2002). Some of it was even documented. As you feast in his honor today, here are some fun facts to remember about Francesco Forgione, the humble Capuchin friar from Pietrelcina, Italy:
1. Pio experienced the stigmata, miraculously appearing wounds in the hands and feet, said to represent the wounds of Christ. At various times, Pio claimed to experience an invisible case of the stigmata (the best kind of stigmata, in which his hands hurt pretty bad but aren’t outwardly messy) and a real, bleeding case of it. There are a couple of famous pictures of him where you can actually see the blood. It’s ickily convincing. Pio’s stigmata first showed up in 1918, and the blood was said to have smelled like flowers. Some critics said it smelled suspiciously like cologne.
2. Pio bilocated, i.e. he could be in two places at once. This allowed him to visit the Holy Land and the United States without ever stepping foot out of Italy. Holiness has its conveniences.
3. Pio could fly. According to legend, he once protected the Nazi-occupied city of San Giovanni Rotundo from American bombers during World War II. The pilots were about to drop their bombs when a floating guy in a brown robe got in their way. They pulled the triggers, but the bombs wouldn’t release. Thanks, Padre!
4. Satan himself kept tormenting Pio in bodily form. Only the devil didn’t have a red leotard or pitchfork, but would show up as the Blessed Virgin. Or as St. Francis. Or even as a young, tempting, barely clothed dancing girl. Sometimes Pio and Lucifer-in-disguise even wrestled. One time, according to Pio, an evil spirit ripped Pio’s shirt off and began beating him mercilessly. Such attacks were never fun, but they were much more tolerable when the dancing girls did the shirt-ripping. When it came at the hands of fake St. Francis, the experience was just kinda…awkward.
5. Pio had his detractors. Some thought he faked the stigmata. And abused church finances. And engaged in inappropriate behavior in the confession booth — though in Pio’s defense, he may have thought he was wrestling the devil disguised as a dancing girl. It’s just like Paul talked about in Ephesians 6:12…Pio wrestled “not against flesh and blood” or, you know, nubile confessors, but against spirits and principalities and whatnot.
Wanna learn more about Padre Pio? Here’s all you’ll ever need to know.