The Gift of Conversion
As Father Carty says, "Padre Pio will go down in history as one who knew how to convert."
It is not possible to know the names of all those who have been converted by him or to describe all of the spiritual transformations he has effected upon the souls of his "spiritual children. In his work, Who is Padre Pio? he provides but a few of the known persons who underwent conversions, each an "an unwritten volume of suffering and joy, and if any of it has been brought to light, the description was only a pale shadow of what had been experienced."
One of the most spectacular conversions was that of Signor Festa, a lawyer of Genoa, and cousin of the Doctor Festa who examined Padre Pio's Stigmata; another was that of Di Maggio di Partinico, also a lawyer. Fr. Carty names also Signora Luisa Vairo; the writer Checcacci of Genoa, the Russian Colonel Caterinitch; the sculptor Francesco Messina; and Father Pio of the Trinitarians, among others. The author writes that he could only mention a few names among thousands because most were not willing to send in a signed statement, he believes either because of a false modesty or because they did not fully realize the miraculous grace they received. Father Carty was himself a convert to the Catholic faith. Here he gives us but two accounts of the names above.
In the case of the lawyer Festa, persuaded that his cousin the doctor was in a state of delusion caused by exultation, decided to go in disguise to see Padre Pio. As soon as the Saint beheld him he exclaimed: "What are you doing here? You are a Mason!" A verbal volley ensued, but in the end the lawyer found himself kneeling before the friar who had converted him.
Ferruccio Caponetti was also once a Mason, then a convert. In November of 1931 he wrote to a letter to his close friend who passed the story to the author:
" . . . the Lord has infinite ways! You crossed my path, you showed me the right road, I took heed and climbed up the steep slope of Monte Gargano where I found the Master; he received me with joy because he saw that I was blind, and he listened smiling to the doubts that were in my mind. With simple words but with most profound wisdom he demolished one by one all of the theories that filled my mind, and I found myself without arguments to oppose him; he stripped my soul bare and by showing me Our Lord's sublime teaching he reopened the eyes of my soul; I was able to see the true light, my inmost heart was touched and I knew the meaning of Faith.
"I now enjoy true peace of soul, I now know the true God. For this I am grateful to you, for I owe you so much, and to Padre Pio I owe everything!" [Who is Padre Pio?, p. 18]
Professor G. Felice Checcacci of Genoa, was a writer known throughout Italy, having lived for over forty years in the Orient, had studied a number of religions. He related to Father Carty the story of his conversion: "I must admit that I had not been inside of a church out of devotion for over forty years. . . . as I prayed I heard a voice within me that whispered 'Faith can not be discussed; you must either shut your eyes and accept it at the same time acknowledging the inadequacy of the human mind when confronted with a mystery, or you will have to give it up. There is no middle way. It is for you to choose.' From that day I chose the road I would follow, and I owe my return to the religion of my forefathers to Padre Pio.
"From that time I realized all of the beauty that exists in Christian charity, and the selfishness and indifference to human suffering by Asiatic religions founded on the doctrine of fatalism and reincarnation." [Ibid., pp. 28-29.]
Perhaps the most famous conversion concerned another Mason, Alberto del Fante. In the book, Padre Pio, the Stigmatist, Fr. Charles M. Carty provides this account:
"I was a Mason, I was an atheist, I believed in nothing, Padre Pio has given me life under all aspects, today I pray, today I attend Mass every Sunday, it gives me pleasure when my children, before eating, make the Sign of the Cross to thank God who gives us 'our daily bread,' today I receive the Blessed Sacrament, and I am happy when God enters my body. Whoever has my courage, will have my happiness. The great and infinite God gives all to all who love Him." [p. 83.]
Alberto, inspired by his own conversion wrote extensively about other conversions:
"Mr. Luigi De Mercurio, born at Benevento, but living at Pietrelcina, believed in nothing, neither in God, nor Christ nor even in any of the Saints.
"When he married, he did not want holy pictures of any kind in his home, and he even once spat upon a picture of Saint Lucy, whom his wife loved and venerated. Many times his wife and the Florios, friends of Pio's parents, advised him to go to Padre Pio who would change his attitude. 'Padre Pio,' he always repeated, 'will never succeed in changing my mind.' One night Padre Pio appeared in a dream to his wife, and advised her to persuade her husband to go to San Giovanni Rotondo.
"June 19, 1925, Mr. De Mercurio, having business to attend to at San Giovanni, met a group of the faithful who were going to see the Padre. He went there for business, but also out of curiosity, and in order to deceive his wife.
"The evening of June 19, 1925 he presented himself before Padre Pio, whom he had never seen, and as soon as he faced him, the rebel and the apostate, felt forced by a superhuman force to kneel before him and kiss his habit.
"He never knew how to explain why he acted in this manner, saying, that it seemed to me 'that two strong hands forced me to kneel, and I was forced even to kiss his habit.'
"He came down into the town of San Giovanni with the others without telling the Padre who he was.
"The morning after he went to Confession to Padre Pio and received the Blessed Sacrament from his stigmatized hands.
"His esteem now for the Padre was great, but lingering doubt was still alive in him. He wanted from the Padre a proof that would definitely convince him.
"In the evening at dinner his friends said: 'Gigino, tomorrow is your name's day, the feast of your patron Saint, you must pay for a treat to all of us.' 'Yes, yes,' he answered---I shall buy you all a drink of anise.' 'But that is too little!'
'Well then I shall buy a bottle of Strega.'
"Going to bed, Mr. Mercurio, persistently thinking of Padre Pio, said to himself: 'Padre I shall believe in you, if tomorrow morning not one of my companions will extend greetings on my name's day from the time I get up, to the time I arrive at the threshold of the Monastery. You, Padre, must be the first to extend the greetings of my feast day.' He said 'You must be the first to extend the greetings,' because he knew that the Padre did not know his name.
"The morning after, June 21, the Feast of San Luigi, which is his name's day, Mr. Mercurio was awakened by his companions.
'Gigino, hurry up, we are late, through your fault we shall not be able to assist at the Mass of Padre Pio!'
"Nobody extended to him the greetings of his day. No one called him by his proper name, neither in the house, nor on the road to the monastery one mile away.
"His heart beat more rapidly every time he himself mentioned 'Luigi, Gigino or Gino,' since he feared that some one would recall to him the pledge made the night before, not through fear of having to pay for the bottle of Strega, but because his doubt would have attacked him anew.
'Listen,' he was saying to himself, 'now they are saying it, the pledge is broken and I do not believe, it cannot be that all have forgotten that today is my name's day, there are twelve of them, it is enough that at least one remembers, one is sufficient.'
"Little by little as they approached the Monastery he repeated to himself, 'Still 500 yards, then 300, still 100, then yards,' finally he arrived at the doors of the church without ever hearing a greeting from anyone of the group.
'And now, here is the test,' he said, 'how can the Padre extend to me his greetings before anyone else if he does not know my name? Haven't I asked perhaps too much? It is impossible. I have been a blockhead.'
"Padre Pio after his Mass, retired to the choir for his thanksgiving. With his friends Mr. De Mercurio waited for him to come out; a little later, Padre Pio came toward them smiling,
'Luigino, my greetings to you, today is your name's day,' said the Padre as soon as he saw him.
"Luigi De Mercurio stiffened, he wished to speak, he wished to thank, he wished to smile but his voice left him and he could not say a word.
"The others stood stupefied and were amazed at not having remembered, and they recalled to their friend the promise of the preceding evening.
"De Mercurio, having won the argument, knelt before the Padre, kissed again his habit, raised his eyes toward him who knew all, and wept with joy. Padre Pio looked at him and seemed to be saying, The voice is silent, but the heart speaks.'
'Pardon, pardon, pardon, Padre! You alone know what I have thought. You alone know how much I have desired and feared this moment, I am conquered, I am convinced, I am convinced, I believe, I believe, I believe, I shall love you just as you are loved by all those who approach you, I shall become your spiritual child . . .You have converted me.'
"Here we must testify that no one ever told Padre Pio that Mr. De Mercurio was called Luigi.
"One family at San Giovanni Rotondo had the nickname of Tampa-Tampa. The family was very poor. Two sons were Capuchin Fathers, and a third son who was the idol of the mother had sought employment in Abyssinia. When the mother learned that her favorite son had died in Abyssinia she could not resign herself. A procession of Our Lady of Sorrows passed her house shortly after she heard about her son's death. The afflicted mother was unable to contain her grief and instead of humbly asking the help of Our Lady of Sorrows she ran out into the crowded procession and blasphemed in a most scandalous manner against Our Lord and His Mother.
"One of her Capuchin sons came home for a day's visit. He was grieved to find his mother . . . seriously ill with heart trouble and above all he was pained to hear about her falling from grace because of her public blasphemies. He went to the monastery and begged Padre Pio to pray for his mother that she might die in God's grace.
"One morning the poor old mother dragged herself slowly to the monastery. She was exhausted when she arrived at the church. She confessed at length to Padre Pio, face to face under the arch where he hears the deaf, the crippled or the very aged who are unable to kneel down at the confessional.
"The laments and loud sobs of the mother were heard by all in the church as she poured out her woes and sins. Many of those who were in the church knew about what had happened. They undoubtedly thanked the Lord that this soul was returning to grace.
When the long Confession was ended, Padre Pio passed through the church to the confessional where numerous penitents were awaiting him. His face was white and his eyes expressed infinite grief, compassion, and love.
"Outside the church, the old mother told all that she begged Padre Pio to tell the Lord to call her in death, as she was so tired. She was so exhausted that she could hardly stand up. Fortunately a car was waiting in front of the church. She was taken home in the car. To her daughter she said: "Put me to bed and call all my children, Padre Pio has pardoned me." These were her last words for she soon closed her tired eyes forever." [pp. 84-86.]