I do not know why even a veteran Vaticanista like Salvatore Izzo of AGI, who generally has very shrewd comments, should find it 'remarkable' that Benedict XVI should come to venerate Padre Pio.
Even the Franciscan friar, Brother DiLeo cited in the CNA article in the preceding post, ended his remarks by saying that "the picture of teh theologian Pope kneeling before Padre Pio's urn will be more significant than any words."
The assumption is that an intellectual like Joseph Ratzinger is too far removed from the faith of the simple folk. Yet this is someone who grew up amid the simple traditional Catholicism of Bavaria, and who, even as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, defined his job as keeping the faith whole and intact for the simple folk.
As a boy, he frequented the Marian shrine at Altoetting with his family, and there he also learned to venerate St. Conrad of Parzham, the lay Capuchin who served as a humble porter at the shrine for 40 years.
In fact, Pope Benedict XVi often cites Padre Pio whenever he refers to contemporary saints.
All manifestations of Christian faith are welcome, provided they do not remain empty manifestations but are translated into a genuine conversion of the heart to Christian love.
The theologian Pope and defender of the faith
will kneel before the mortal remains of the saint
by Salvatore Izzo and Franco Colomo
SAN GIOVANNI ROTONDO, June 20 (Translated from AGI) - Benedict XVI, the theologian Pope who spent half of his life as a university professor and the next half as defender of the faith, will render homage tomorrow to San Pio of Pietrelcina, a monk who dealt with his people with great simplicity and who had been investigated for some time by the former Holy Office [in the 1920s and 1930s].
He will pray before the urn containing the body of the Capuchin who bore Christ's stigmata in life and who has been on public exposition for more than a year now.
It is a significant visit which comes 10 years after Padre Pio's beatification in May 1989, and seven years since he was canonized on June 16, 2002.
Then the Pope will celebrate Mass in front of the futuristic church of San Pio (designed by Renzo Piano and decorated by mosaic artist Mark Rupnik). In the afternoon, he will visit the patients and personnel of the hospital Casa Sollievo di Sofferenza [started by padre Pio but now a property of the Vatican, administered by the diocese], and finally with priests, religious, seminarians and young people in the Church of San Pio.
Papa Ratzinger's predecessor, John Paul II, came here on May 23, 1987.
Last October 2006, on the 50th anniversary of the Opere di San Pio (Works of San Pio, referring to his various social projects in San Giovanni Rotondo), Benedict XVI addressed the staff and personnel of the Casa Sollievo and the members of Padre Pio's Prayer Encounter Groups at a special audience in St. Peter's Square.
"Padre Pio," he told them, "was above all a man of God. From childhood, he felt called by the Lord and he responded with all his heart, all his soul, all his strength. Thus, divine love could take possession of his humble person and make it a chosen instrument in his plan for salvation. Everything in the Church comes from God, and without him, nothing can stand."
"The works of Padre Pio," he said, "offer an extraordinary example of this truth. One can well call the Casa di Sollievo a miracle. And if the scientific and technological dimension distinguishes the hospital, prayer extends throughout all of the works."
The prayer encounter groups, he said, "continually knock on the heart of God, like an army of intercessors and reparationists, to obtain graces needed by the Church and the world".
These prayer groups, born in 1942, are today one of the most concrete proofs of the friar's legacy - more than 3,000 spread throughout all the inhabited continents.
"Padre Pio still offers a reference point for us today," John Paul II told the Capuchin community when he visited in 1987, "because the two aspects which characterize Catholic priesthood found particular acceptance and spiritual resonance in him: the faculty to consecrate the Body and Blood of the Lord and that of remitting sins. Were not the altar and the confessional the two poles of his life? His priestly testimony has a message that is as valid as it is relevant today."
At the beatification ceremony in 1989, he noted, that "Padre Pio's charity poured forth like balsam over the weaknesses and sufferings of his brothers. And so he united his zeal for souls with attention to human pain, leading him to build a hospital in San Giovanni Rotondo."
With the Casa di Sollievo, John Paul said, Padre Pio showed that "God's 'ordinary miracles' are made possible through our charity".
At the canonization rites on June 16, 2002, the Pope proclaimed to the world that "the new saint invites us to place God above everything else in the world and to consider him as our best and only good."
"The ultimate reason for Padre Pio's apostolic effectiveness was the profound roots of his spiritual fecundity in his intimate and constant union with God of which the long hours he spent in prayer were an eloquent testimony."
As for Padre Pio's relations with the Popes, John XXIII's great mistrust of the monk was well known, but towards the end, he changed his mind at the urging of Cardinal Giuseppe Siri, the Archbishop of Genoa who was the first president of the Italian bishops' conference, according to Siri's biographer, the famed ex-Vaticanista and historian Benni Lay.
"I often had to meet with Pope John because of my duties as CEI president and also of the 'social weeks' (annually observed by the Italian bishops to highlight the social work undertaken by dioceses and parishes], and we always ended up talking about Padre Pio," Lay quotes Siri as saying.
John XXIII, a good man and a true saint, was concerned because serious accusations were reaching the Vatican about Padre Pio. Sometimes it was the Capuchin's own defenders who contributed by an excess of zeal and the impression of wanting to rush tings.
In the end, the Pope, according to Siri, was convinced that the monk "had nothing to do with the accusations that were mobilized against him".
But even a giant of the faith like Cardinal Siri could do little against the prejudices of the Franciscan doctor Agostino Gemelli (founder of the hospital in Rome and the Catholic university of teh Sacred Heart in Milan) who could never accept that the poor Capuchin could share the same gift given to Francis of Assisi - namely, the stigmata.
Gemelli nursed a stubborn prejudice that Siri could not manage to dent. "Facts are facts", Siri wrote about Padre Pio's stigmata. In the process, he revealed a curious episode with Padre Pio.
Siri had been perplexed and anguished over a problem and he had to make a delicate choice between two courses of action 'in the dark', so to speak.
"The next day," he told Lay, "I received a telegram from Padre Pio who said that the decision I took was the right one/ How on earth did he even know?"
Eventually, Siri brought all this to the attention of Paul VI after Padre Pio's death and was able to get the process of beatification under way. This remained stalled for a long time until it was taken up again by John Paul II.
I will post here a story about Cardinal Ratzinger who visited Pietrelcina, Padre Pio's hometown about two weeks before the monk's canonization. The story first appeared in an Italian magazine in 2005 and I posted this translation in the thread ENCOUNTERS WITH THE FUTURE POPE on the PRF in June 2006 after Ratzigirl unearthed it.
CARDINAL RATZINGER'S HOMAGE
TO PADRE PIO OF PIETRELCINA
by Roberto Allegri
“June 1, 2002 was a Saturday. In Pietrelcina, we were all in great commotion in preparation for the proclamation of Padre Pio as a saint, which would take place on June 15. All of Pietrelcina, Padre Pio’s hometown, was mobilized for the event.
“Then came the surprise that no one expected. In the afternoon, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger arrived, the man who is now Pope Benedict XVI, requesting to visit the places associated with Padre Pio.
“We accompanied him with great joy, and it was a most beautiful and touching occasion – especially because we had not thought that the great German theologian, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, would be so visibly interested in the mystical story of Padre Pio, who is considered the saint of the simple folk, a saint of the people.”
So recalls Father Marciano Guarino about that day. His image, happily smiling, is immortalized next to Cardinal Ratzinger in photos taken during that visit [I've tried searching for these photos online but without success].
At that time, Fr. Marciano was the parish priest of the main church in Pietrelcina. Today he is the chaplain of the hospital called “House of Relief from Suffering” in San Giovanni Rotondo [the little town near the Adriatic Sea in the central eastern part of Italy which is the site of the principal shrine to Padre Pio
“As one can see in these pictures,” Padre Marciano says, “I was really very happy. The Cardinal had put us all at ease. We had thought that he would be a severe person, but he turned out to be simple and very friendly.”
But not one newspaper reported that visit in 2002. It was a private visit. In addition, everyone in Pietrelcina at the time thought that Ratzinger – precisely because he was Prefect of the CDF, which was once called the Holy Office, that had issued several condemnations of Padre Pio in the 20s and 30s - would not be a sympathizer of the monk from Pietrelcina.
Indeed, it was thought that Ratzinger, with his profound theological culture and his tranining as a great intellectual, would not have a ‘feel’ for the humility of Padre Pio and for the popular devotion demonstrated for him by simple people.
Some even suspected that the stern ‘guardian of the faith’ may have actually come to investigate whether there were devotional exaggerations, based on superstition, practised in the saint’s hometown.
But now that Cardinal Ratzinger has become Benedict XVI and has shown in his daily activities that he was always in harmony with his predecessor, all the prejudices have fallen away.
“Truthfully,” Fr. Marciano says, “we immediately realized that Cardinal Ratzinger was a great admirer of Padre Pio. To everything that we told him about Padre Pio, he listened attentively, with great interest, and asked questions. “
“In the places where Padre Pio lived and where so many mysterious phenomena were verified to take place, like the apparitions and the stigmata, the bloody ‘battle’ with Satan, the Cardinal visited in silence, almost as if he were listening to voices, almost as if he were imagining the events that had taken place. And he prayed. I could see him go into prayer.
”Even I had always had that mistaken image of the Cardinal. Like everyone else, on the basis of what was said about him, I imagined him stern, taciturn, reserved, mistrutful. Instead he was very sweet, affable, smiling, humble – someone who immediately put you at ease, one who was immediately likable.”
How was this visit arranged?
There was no arrangement. The cardinal was in Benevento for the closing of the diocesan Eucharistic Congress. Pietrelcina is only about 15 kilometers away from Benevento, so the Cardinal decided he wanted to visit the places associated with Padre Pio. And the superior of our convent simply received a telephone call informing him that the Cardinal would be arriving.
Was he accompanied by others?
By his secretary and by two priests from Benevento. No outward appearances. No official reception. He stopped awhile at the convent to speak to our superior (Father Nazario at the time), and then he began his visit. The first stop was at my parish church.”
Important because it was there Padre Pio said Mass in the early years of his priesthood...
And it is called the Mother Church of Pietrelcina because it is the most important. Padre Pio said Mass every morning in that church. We told Cardinal Ratzinger that as a young priest, Padre Pio had seen many apparitions of the Madonna in that church.
These are wondrous things for believers, but many others think they are simply legends or fantasizing. But Cardinal Ratzinger, great theologian, defender of the faith, simply listened very attentively, and I never saw his face express the slightest sign of surprise or reservation.
How long did he stay?
Quite some time. He wanted to visit every place unhurriedly. I remember he congratulated us on how clean the Church was. He is very watchful and observant, nothing seemed to escape him. He noted how the church was clean even in the most remote corners.
Inside the church, we also had a bell that we had ordered to mark Padre Pio’s canonization two weeks later. It was inside the church to be blessed. It would be a historic bell. The Cardinal stopped to inspect and admire it.
There was a reliquary, with a glove of Padre Pio that was stained with blood from his stigmata. The Cardinal looked at everything with great attention and admiration.
Later, where else did he go
We went to the historic zone of Pietrelcina, in which is located the Church of St. Anne, where Padre Pio was baptized, and the houses where he was born, where he passed his infancy, and where he lived during his long years of sickness.
The cardinal even went up to the ‘torretta’, a little room that had been made into a sort of tower, to which Padre Pio often retreated for prayer, and later, even became his bedroom.
In that ‘torretta’ many mysterious, mystic things happened that are difficult to explain, and therefore, many people don’t consider them factual. But they are historical facts that truly occurred, and we recounted these to Cardinal Ratzinger, who listened seriously and with active participation.
After the visit to the historic zone, he was accompanied to the countryside location in Piana Romana, where Padre Pio received his stigmata.
So the Cardinal showed great interest in all these mystical events associated with Padre Pio?
A great deal of interest, but not only that. As I said, in every place that he visited, he would gather himself in prayer, showing devotion, admiration and love for Padre Pio.
In 2002, the newspapers rwere reporting almost daily about Padre Pio. The visit to Pietrelcina of a cardinal as famous as Ratzinger should have been a big thing for the press, ut instead it went by unnoticed, and it is only made known now that he is Pope.
I don’t know. Maybe it was not played up because Cardinal Ratzinger was always resevred. Or maybe out of prejudice. As I said, it was thought that Ratzinger was not an admirer of Padre Pio.
Instead, it turns out to be the opposite. I learned, reading an artile in the magazine ‘Pietrelcina, the Land of Padre Pio’, that the cardinal spoke amply of Padre Pio in one of his books written before he came to visit us. And he spoke precisely of those aspects that are linked to the popular devotions to Padre Pio.
He recalled the story that a pregnant woman told a reporter – she had been gravely ill bur was cured after praying to Padre Pio. In commenting on this, the Cardinal did not say that this was an exaggeration, or fanaticism. Instead he pointed out that the woman’s behavior showed her true faith.
Indeed, this is what he wrote: “It may have been ingenuous or childlike, but her behavior reflected something of the original trustfulness that we had been given as a gift and which is rooted in the awareness that we have friends in the world beyond this, that such friends are near, that they can help us, and that we can call on them with trust.” And that is exactly what people did
who turned for help with great simplicity to Padre Pio.
How long did the visit last?
Several hours. I was not able to participate in all of it because I had evening Mass to say at my church. Before he left, the cardinal signed the guest book in Pietrelcina, saying a beautiful thing: “May Saint Padre Pio always help his brothers and all pilgrims to love the suffering Christ and make a commitment to charity that springs from the open heart of the Lord.”