Feast Day: September 23rd | Patron of Adolescents, Civil Defenders, Pietrelcina, Italy
1887, like most years in human history, had a whole lot of ordinary events, and a few that you would recognize. Gustave Eiffel began work on his eponymous tower in Paris. King Kalākaua of Hawai’i was forced to sign the Bayonet Constitution, leading to Hawaii’s annexation to the United States. Yamaha Corporation was founded in Japan, originally a manufacturer of organs. Sherlock Holmes first appeared in print in England.
God’s grace was available in all of these moments, though, as is often the case, it was more visible in the humbler moments that history has long since forgotten. On March 25th of that year, on the Friday two weeks before Easter, after a day fasting from meat and working with her husband, Grazio, in the fields, Giuseppa “Beppa” Forgione gave birth to their fourth child, though only their second to survive infancy. They were a lovely couple: Neither had received much academic education, but Beppa had a dignity and sincerity that melded marvelously with Grazio’s simplicity and lightheartedness. The townspeople would fondly recall Beppa’s penetrating eyes and Grazio’s wiry tenacity, attributes that marked them through all 47 years of their marriage.
But that Friday evening when Francisco was born, those personal characteristics, and their own past and future, were far from the couple’s mind. Instead, they endured together the struggle of childbirth, the surreal joy of welcoming a son into their family, the poignant sadness of recalling his deceased brother and sister, and yet the sure hope that held their hearts knowing that they had given each of their children the greatest gift they ever could: baptism into God’s very life.
They owned a simple jumble-of-a-house comprised of a few connected rooms on Vico Storto Valle [hilariously, literally, “Crooked Valley Lane”]. Their whitewashed walls were adorned with little more than two crucifixes and a lithograph of Mary, but their home was filled with the love that cascades around a little Catholic family. They woke when the bells of Castle Church rang out for daybreak, starting the day with some family prayers and daily Mass. Then Tata [Papa] would saddle the ass and begin the hour trek to his strip of farmland where he grew grapes, wheat, corn, olives, figs, and plums. There were a few sheep and hogs around, and a little cottage there if they had to stay the night, but usually they were back in Pietrelcino for nightfall, eating a dinner of produce from Beppa’s garden – apparently a lot of green beans – and maybe some pasta. If it was a feast day, Mammella [Motherdear] would prepare some of the pork sausage they had saved from last year’s hog.
Music and stories from the Bible (Grazio was a wonderful storyteller!) and meditation on the life of Christ through their daily rosary filled the last part of the day. Days quickly became years as the life of their family was swept along through the Church’s seasons. One of the children’s favorite stories was that of the great martyred Bishop Januarius, who was buried only 40 miles, but whose blood would sometimes miraculously liquify on his feast day, September 19th. On the one hand, nothing was notable about the Forgione’s, but on the other hand, their love for God was evident to all, and their fellow townspeople them the “God-is-everything-people”.
We often hear only the second half of Padre Pio’s story: of his miracles and bilocation; his fervent Masses and the profound encounter with God’s Love that many received going to confession to him; how misunderstood he was by the Church, and the world; his battles with Satan; his love for Mary; his participation in Jesus’ wounds; his prediction that Karol Wojtyla would be called to be the Holy Father… But where did this holy priest come from?: A family, with a farm, and not much more than the simple meals of a loving mother and the saintly stories of a goofy dad, and consistent daily encounters with Jesus, and Mary. They sang and suffered, and loved and labored together, and from that soil grew one of the most captivating lives of all the Church’s saints. It does not take much to become a saint, a mystic, a martyr, or a stigmatist … just saying yes to God’s love into our human lives every single day.
– Fr. Dominic Rankin once visited the tomb of St. Padre Pio. He is enshrined behind glass, beneath a big, modern Church, and thousands meander past every day. Some encounter a saint, some see a celebrity, some scoff at the stories, but a few pilgrims meet there the son of two peasants who loved Jesus with as much of his heart as he could. We can all do that.