Padre Pio: The True Story by C. Bernard Ruffin was published in 1991 and has 417 pages of text. I try to read at least one religious book during Lent (which is now over) and this called to me. This is the second time I’ve read the book, and it was no less moving than the first time.
The book is work. Ruffin is a scholar. He has researched a tremendous amount of sources and has reported a tremendous amount of information on the recently canonized Italian priest who bore the stigmata. Ruffin is Lutheran, and approaches his subject as part academic, part admirer. He tries to be objective–even debunking several miracles attributed to the priest, and presenting opposition to him–but his great admiration of the man born Francesco Forgione II in Pietrelcina on May 25, 1887 trumps all scholarship. As does my admiration of Padre Pio, but more on that later.
The book begins with regional description, context, and a biography. Padre Pio was the fourth child born to a devoutly Catholic, Italian, farming family with eight children. Even from his youth he was know for his serenity, sensitivity, and holiness. He was ordained to the Order of Friars Minor, Capuchin in 1908 who traced their origin to St. Francis of Assissi (who also bore the wounds of Christ.)
On the afternoon of September 7th, 1910, he received he wounds of the stigmata. They brought him great physical pain and humiliation throughout his life, but like his motto at ordination, he longed to be a “perfect victim.” He prayed to God that he could suffer with Christ for the benefit of humanity, and suffer he did.
The rest of the text recounts his extraordination ministry in spite of his humble daily life, his poor health, his devotion to the sacrament of reconciliation (penance), his knowledge of the hidden souls of others, reports of his bilocation (appearing in multiple places at the same time), and his fascinating–and often frightening–supernatural experiences.
I recommend this book to anyone looking for an interesting biography or a book to strengthen her Christian faith. It is dense, but it provides many oppotunities for awe and spiritual reflection, camaraderie with people of other times struggling with their faith, and the nuances of human interaction in a religious community.
Several years ago, my husband saw a documentary on Padre Pio and bought the book. He was enthralled with it, and insisted I read it when he finished. I was also very moved by the book, and since then, I’ve had a special devotion to Padre Pio. I try to read about him, pray to him for intercession, and seek information about him.
As a little lesson for non-Catholics, Catholics do not worship saints; we connect with them as advocates with a closer ear to God than we have. One popular misconception about Catholics is that we worship Mary, when really, we pray to her to tell her Son our wishes. (Mothers have a way of influencing their sons. :)) There are many saints with “specialties” based on their own lives. Often, in reading about saints, one feels a particular pull or connection to a saint based on one’s own spiritual needs.
In many cases, you are what you read. If this is true, you can’t go wrong by reading about a man who devoted his life to helping bring people to God, and who loved humanity so much he wanted to suffer on its behalf. The book does leave one feeling a bit…unworthy…but through the words of Padre Pio and his life example, a better path is illuminated for us on the road to enlightenment.