In southern Italy, there is one of the second-most visited Catholic shrines in the world: Padre Pio of Pietrelcina at San Giovanni Rotondo. More than 7 million pilgrims each year have made pilgrimage here, the most second only to Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. This shrine is where Padre Pio spent most of his life and served for 52 years.
Padre Pio was a disciple of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, and was known for being a very loving and joyful devotee despite the tests and trials he endured in life. There are reports of his spiritual gifts– similar to those of the great Self-realized yogis of the East spoken of in Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda. For example, there were reports that he performed miraculous healings, that he was in two places at once, and that he could read the soul of those who came to him for guidance.
However, he is most known for receiving the spiritual gift of stigmata through his devotion. As with Saint Theresa of Avilla and Saint Francis, the gift of stigmata came to Padre Pio through his devotion to Jesus and attunement with his experience of crucifixion– when despite his pain and suffering he remained full of love and forgiveness (And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”-Luke 23:34). It is truly amazing that during this modern era, there too was such a great devotee of Christ that he bore the wounds of the stigmata.
Padre Pio was a Franciscan monk who followed the example of St. Francis of Assisi, where he a lived a simple life in peace and joy and service to others as best he could:
“Pray, hope, and don’t worry. Worry is useless.”
Padre Pio performed a simple, everyday Mass that would take about an hour and a half. He would start the Pater Noster and suddenly go into ecstasy where he would be immobile for 20 minutes–then continue on with Mass. Many observed him levitating during the ceremony, evidence that when we connect with Spirit– we surpass physical limitations.
When he was alive he performed many miracles and healings, all done with a sense of humility and understanding that he was an instrument of God. To this day, many prayers to him continue to be answered, and healings still occur through his divine channel.
Visiting Padre Pio in Italy: San Giovanni Rotondo
If you have time to ever visit the San Giovanni Rotondo in Italy, you will surely find it to be a spiritual blessing and opportunity for further growth.
The main places to see at the shrine include the Padre Pio Pilgrimage Church which contains his tomb and the cell where he lived during his years of service, the forest where he received the stigmata (Via Crucis), and the hospital where he served the poor (Portale dell’Opera di Padre Pio).
Visiting his tomb is a very powerful experience. First you are led to walk through a long hall completely covered with the most amazing and inspiring mosaics, and then you enter into the church with his tomb. Here there is a strong, spiritual energy, which can especially be felt when you touch where Padre Pio’s body is kept in the tomb. Afterward, you can remain in the surrounding area of the church. It is helpful during this time of reflection or prayer to meditate on the principles lived by, and deep understanding of Christ Consciousness that Padre Pio had.
Once you exit the Padre Pio Pilgrimage Church, out front in the middle of the various road intersections, liberias, and parking lots– you will see a beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary with a lot (a lot!) of stairs going upward into a silent park (that used to be more forested before development).
The stairs go through the middle of the park’s pathways, and lead you straight up to the place where Padre Pio is said to have received his first stigmata. There is a stone table (see right) to mark this place. When I was there in winter 2012, there were several Italians who put their ears onto the table to listen for something. There was a grandfather telling his granddaughter that people say if you listen carefully enough you can hear a loud vibration there. Interestingly, this is very similar to the eastern teachings that the sound of God permeating the universe is”aum, “(or “om”)– which sounds very much like a loud vibration or buzzing. It makes sense that the great sound of Aum would be in a such a holy place.
Anytime that you are able to open your mind and your heart to think more deeply about the life examples of such a person as Padre Pio, your consciousness raises a bit more. However, the most important thing is that you try to tune into the feelings you get as you explore such a sacred place. I try and tune into the teachings of the saint whenever I go on pilgrimage and I always go with an attitude of gratefulness and openness.
See the movie of Padre Pio visit our spiritual movie list.