Sunday, June 21, 2009

Padre's Day at Pio's Place

In a pilgrimage that's been much awaited across Italy, today the Pope hopped across the Boot to visit San Giovanni Rotondo and the sanctuary of St Pio of Pietrelcina -- Padre Pio, the 20th century Capuchin mystic who's the most-turned to figure among Italians at prayer... Jesus included.

As one would expect given Pio's massive global cult, turnout was measured in the "hundreds of thousands":
At the beginning of the Year for Priests, Benedict XVI has launched another model for all priests showing to all the example of the friar from Pietrelcina: "A simple man of humble origins, 'seized by Christ' (Phil 3:12) ... to make of him an elected instrument of the perennial power of his Cross: the power of love for souls, forgiveness and reconciliation, spiritual fatherhood, effective solidarity with the suffering. The stigmata, that marked his body, closely united him to the Crucified and Risen Christ "....

In his homily, Benedict XVI reflected on the Gospel of the day, which recounts the miracle of the clamed storm (Mk 4, 35-41). “The solemn gesture of calming the stormy sea is clearly a sign of the lordship of Christ over the negative powers and it induces us to think of His divinity: "Who is He – ask the disciples in wonder - that even the wind and the sea obey him?" (Mk 4.41). Their faith is not yet steadfast, it is taking shape, is a mixture of fear and trust; rather Jesus trusting abandonment to the Father is full and pure. This is why He sleeps during the storm, completely safe in the arms of God - but there will come a time when Jesus will feel anxiety and fear: When His time comes, He shall feel upon himself the whole weight of the sins of humanity, as a massive swell that is about to fall upon Him. Oh yes, that shall be a terrible storm, not a cosmic one, but a spiritual one. It will be Evil’s last, extreme assault against the Son of God….. In that hour, Jesus was on the one hand entirely One with the Father, fully given over to him – on the other, as in solidarity with sinners, He was separated and He felt abandoned”.
Padre Pio too, said the pope, lived these “storms” together with Christ. “Remaining united to Jesus, - explains Benedict XVI - he always had his sights on the depths of the human drama, and this was why he offered his many sufferings, why he was able to spend himself in the care for and relief of the sick - a privileged sign of God's mercy, of his kingdom which is coming, indeed, which is already in the world, a sign of the victory of love and life over sin and death. Guide souls and relieving suffering: thus we can sum up the mission of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina: as the servant of God, Pope Paul VI said of him". “Padre Pio –he added - drew on the path of holiness by his own testimony, showing by example the "track" that leads to it: prayer and charity”. Benedict XVI recalls the intensity with which Padre Pio celebrated mass and how the hospital founded by him “the House for the Relief of Suffering”, is the fruit of his close bond with the Sacred Heart of Christ.

And speaking to the friars, the spiritual groups linked to Padre Pio and all those listening, he affirmed: “The risks of activism and secularization are always present, so my visit was also meant to confirm fidelity to the mission inherited from your beloved Father. Many of you, religious and laity, are so taken by the full duties required by the service to pilgrims, or the sick in the hospital, you run the risk of neglecting the real need: to listen to Christ to do the will of God. When you see that you are close to running this risk, look to Padre Pio: In his example, his sufferings, and invoke his intercession, because it obtains from the Lord the light and strength that you need to continue his mission soaked by love for God and fraternal charity”.
(The homily, in full.)

With well over 8 million visitors in a normal year -- and even more having flocked over recent months to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the saint's death -- San Giovanni Rotondo is said to be Christianity's second most-visited holy place, topped only by Mexico City's Guadalupe Basilica, where no less than six million pilgrims converged last year just in the days around the Morenita's mid-December feast.

PHOTOS: Reuters