Throwback Thursday: Padre Pio and Our Spiritual Journey to Holiness

This Saturday in the season of Lent, March 17, Pope Francis is making a pastoral pilgrimage to Pietrelcina and San Giovanni Rotondo on the occasion of the centennial year of the appearance of the stigmata of Saint Padre Pio and the 50th anniversary year of his death.

One of the most popular pilgrimage sites in Italy today is San Giovanni Rotondo where, for 50 years, Padre Pio, now Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, was dedicated to a ministry of healing, both body and spirit.  Consumed by a longing to care for souls, he spent many hours each day hearing confessions and praying.  He would say, “In books we seek God, in prayer we find him. Prayer is the key which opens God’s heart.”

Padre Pio was baptized with the name of Francis, and like the saint of Assisi, he received the stigmata, bearing in his body the marks of Christ’s Passion.  He had many other mystical experiences throughout his life as well.  “Those who went to San Giovanni Rotondo to attend his Mass, to seek his counsel or to confess to him, saw in him a living image of Christ suffering and risen,” affirmed Saint Pope John Paul II.  Given his reputation for sanctity, people would write to Padre Pio, asking for prayers, and many miraculous healings have been attributed to his intercession.  He also established a hospital – the Home for the Relief of Suffering.

“By his teaching and example,” continued John Paul II, “Padre Pio invites us to pray, to receive divine mercy through the sacrament of Penance and to love our neighbor.”  He shows us the path to spiritual purification.

How often we seek the presence of saints like Padre Pio.  We ask them to intercede for us. We journey to places where they lived and where they now rest.  Going not as mere tourists for entertainment, we travel as pilgrims to experience the reality of our living faith and grow closer to God.

Pilgrimages to holy places have been undertaken from the earliest days for a number of reasons, such as seeking divine assistance, in thanksgiving, as penance for sin, or for spiritual growth and devotion.  Here within the Archdiocese of Washington there are a number of pilgrimage sites, many with great historical significance for our Catholic heritage, including:

In these sacred places and many more in this area, the pilgrim is invited to meet the mystery of God and discover his merciful love, remembering that we walk with our spiritual family, the Church and with all the saints who have already completed the journey. They help us on our way, so that we too may someday enjoy with them the blessed vision of the glory of God forever.

In this way, no longer wandering aimlessly in the desert, we advance in our ultimate pilgrimage toward the promised land of eternal life.  We do not travel alone.  We walk with our spiritual family the Church, with Padre Pio and the other saints who have already completed the journey.  They help us on our way so that we too may enter into the blessed vision of the glory of God.