Saturday, March 31, 2012

Seeing Padre Pio in 1967


by Chris Mcals


A Visit to San Giovanni Rotondo
In 1966, when I was 19 years old, one of my aunts came to visit my family with the intention of making a pilgrimage to San Giovanni Rotondo to attend a Mass officiated by Padre Pio. At the time I lived in Bari, Italy.
I immediately volunteered to go with her. All I knew about Padre Pio was that he was a Capuchin Friar who was reputed to be a holy man. He also had a reputation for a bad temper, even though I personally believed that kind of reputation to be unfair.
We often think that God's Love is supposed to make us feel good but we fail to remember that He said through the Apostle St. Paul, that He disciplines those He loves. And that’s exactly what Padre Pio did. He was harsh to those who needed to be treated harshly, only because he knew that there was no other way that they could be saved.
In 1966 Padre Pio was an ailing old man (he died on Sep 23, 1968) who celebrated his daily Mass at the crack of dawn, so we had to get up very early in the morning to get to San Giovanni Rotondo (about an hour and a half travel time from Bari).
I shared a large bedroom with my two younger sisters, and this particular night our aunt was also sleeping with us. Suddenly I was awakened from my slumber by a sweet scent of jasmine flowers.
I knew there were no flowers in the house, so I couldn’t figure out where that scent could possibly be coming from. I sat in my bed and peered around in the dark to see if anybody else in the room had also been awakened, but to my surprise everybody was sound asleep. The wonderful fragrance lingered for a little while and then it gradually dissipated, and I went back to sleep.
Later I told my aunt about my middle of the night experience and she said that sometimes Padre Pio visits in spirit those who are going to see him, and that his visits are always accompanied by a strong fragrance of flowers, usually roses, but sometimes also jasmines.
I was filled with wonder. Why did Padre Pio come to visit me, of all people? I'll never know the answer to that question, but I favor the Jasmine among all other flowers, because it reminds me of the experience I had that night.
When we arrived at the Monastery, the church square was crowded. I felt a bit disappointed to see that everything looked so modern, so post-Vatican II. The front of the church was covered in polished, white marble, and it was much wider than I expected. The massive hospital to the right of the piazza was almost too close to the church, in my opinion. We made our way through the entrance, found a place near the door, and remained standing there for the duration of the Mass.
Padre Pio's Mass
I could see Padre Pio only because he was celebrating Mass from the choir balcony, above the Main Altar. His movements were few, slow and painful. His trembling voice sounded full of tears, very much like that of a suffering old man almost begging for help. He recited the prayers of the Mass one slow, painful word after another, with long pauses in between and I could hardly understand what he was saying because of the slur in his broken voice.
His hands were half covered with brown gloves so nobody could see his holy stigmata. Wishing to validate what my aunt had told me, I was hoping to see if he glanced at me even for an instant, but it was clear that he was totally absorbed with God and the Sacrifice of the Mass.
The air in the church got stifling because of the heat and the crowd, and the Mass was proceeding very, very slowly. We had been standing on our feet for a long time, so after a couple of hours I began to look forward to the end of the Mass, to get back into the open air. In the end it was a touching experience and I was very happy to have had the privilege to see Padre Pio and to hear his voice.

As for the connection between awakening to the fragrance of jasmines prior to attending Padre Pio's Mass, I still have my doubts. It was strange, for sure, but whether or not the two were related, I really don't know.
In 1979 I was also privileged to read, in the original Italian language, the second edition of Padre Pio's "Epistolario," which was published five years after his death, as well as the second edition of the "Diario" which was published in 1975. The Epistolario is a compendium of the original letters that were exchanged between Padre Pio and his spiritual director, Padre Benedetto, as well as his Confessor, Padre Agostino da San Marco in Lamis, from 1910 to 1922. It contains countless references to Padre Pio's extraordinary mystical experiences whether they pertained to Divine apparitions, the Living Fire of Love or to the relentless attacks of the devil.
The Diario is a collections of four copybooks, plus a wealth of additional information written by Padre Pio's Confessor and friend, Padre Agostino, who diligently annotated everything he personally witnessed about the life and spiritual experiences of Padre Pio. He jealously kept his copybooks hidden until his death in 1963, when they were found, and later published under the title, "Diario" (Diary).
This book is precious to me especially because of the four copybooks in which Padre Agostino jotted down every word he heard uttered from Padre Pio's mouth during his ecstasies, as he interacted with our Lord Jesus Christ, our Blessed Mother and his Guardian Angel. The colloquy shows pauses whenever Padre Pio was engaged in listening to the Divine apparitions.

The beginning of this book is totally dedicated to these sacred moments, which are very touching and awe inspiring, as you can see from those I have published in this blog, entitled: Padre Pio's Ecstasy, Part One and Two (to get an idea, click on the links: ecstasies and ecstasies 2). 
If you want to learn more about Padre Pio, both books can be downloaded for free on the web in PDF format.

The body of Padre Pio is on display for the veneration of the faithful







2 comments:

  1. Thank you for writing this post. The scent of Jasmine is a wondrous one, and other saints (I am thinking specifically of a certain Indian saint) have also manifested this fragrance. Please never give up in your spiritual quest!

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    1. Thank you, Maile, I appreciate your kind comment. To this day I still wonder about the meaning of that particular event. Perhaps it was coincidence, but even if it was, it remains interesting that it happened when it did. I'm aware that in many Eastern cultures Sandalwood and Jasmine are widely used as holy incense scents, however at the time when this gift was bestowed (if indeed it was a gift), I knew nothing about Eastern cultures. I hope you read some of my other entries, as well as those of my contributor Friend, who has been a Discalced Carmelite Nun for over 65 years. Peace.

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