A Holy Death and Burial
O the happy death of a soul in the state of grace, the holy death of a Saint!
It was Friday, September 20, 1968, the 50th anniversary of Padre Pio's receiving the Stigmata. He was very weak, confined to a wheelchair, but still said Holy Mass. And he heard Confessions until ordered by his superior to cease for rest. It as if the people knew for they began coming in great numbers, praying for their beloved Padre. On Sunday he said his last Mass, heard his last Confessions and gave the crowds his final blessing.
On Monday, the 23rd, very early in the morning---it was just past midnight---he asked his confreres to come; he made his last Confession. He received Extreme Unction---as I have said---one of the favored few, that is, dying before the complete disorientation, in this case, the introduction of the rite of the Sacrament of the Sick which is not the equivalent of Extreme Unction. Now the Church has the power and authority to make changes in this Sacrament because Christ did not give the Apostles the form directly, like he did with the Consecration of the Blessed Sacrament and Baptism. But all the Saints warn us against the rejection of Tradition, to which the Sacrament of Extreme Unction belongs as do all the Sacraments. Changes where permitted in the sacred rites are to be of necessity. Nothing whatsoever mandated the change here.
O the happy death of a Catholic who has the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, or last anointing in full!
At 2 AM he exclaimed that he could see his two mothers, his earthly mother and Our Lady. Even now his hands were still bleeding as he held his Rosary, unable now to say a Hail Mary. With his dying breath he uttered Gesu, Maria, Gesu, Maria, Gesu, Maria. And he passed into eternity with these words.
After he died his wounds were miraculously healed and most wondrous of all! There was no blood left in his body, as if he had bled his last drop to suffer for Christ, as Christ suffered.
This is Father Carty's account of that by Father Armand Dasseville, O.F.M., Cap., from Padre Pio, the Stigmatist:
"That night he went home. He went to God. At 4: 00 a.m. (of the 23rd), as we were making our way to church for Mass, we heard about his death in the morning, which had occurred at two o'clock. We were stunned. We didn't want to believe it. But the large number of police and soldiers stationed all over the piazza of the church and friary confirmed our fears. We waited from 4:30 to 6:30 a.m. for the church doors to open, but they didn't. We spent the time in prayer, especially the Rosary. Later that day the doors of the church were opened to the public. The body of Padre Pio was in an open casket in full view of everyone. It lay just outside the sanctuary, below the communion railing. Busloads of people kept streaming into church day and night till the funeral on Thursday, September 26th. Thousands of pilgrims from all over the world, rich and poor, crippled and healthy, Italians and non-Italians, came to pay their last respects and to unite in sorrow over the loss of their common father, Padre Pio.
"September 26th, 1968 was a beautiful, sunny day in San Giovanni Rotondo . . .a bout 100,000 people witnessed the burial of Padre Pio. By 3:00 p.m. the piazza of the church and the one in front of the hospital nearby were filled to capacity. Thousands of people, mostly Italians, but many from the four corners of the world, had come to pay their respects. The funeral procession was made up of representatives of other orders and the secular priesthood. Slowly the funeral cortege wended its way down the hill from the church to the town of San Giovanni Rotondo, about a mile and a half away. The open casket with the body of Padre Pio was resting in an open hearse in full view of everyone. The Most Reverend Father Clementine of Vlissingen, the Minister General of the Capuchin Order, presided and walked in front of the hearse. The friars who had lived with Padre Pio served as honorary guards around the casket. Both sides of the street leading to San Giovanni Rotondo were lined with thousands of people. From windows, porches, or even the rooftops, men and women had gathered to get a better, last glimpse of Padre Pio. Slowly and solemnly the procession made its way through the narrow streets of the little town, which Padre Pio had made famous by his presence for more than fifty years.
"Amazingly enough, there was no hysteria. Only a few cries or outburst from some women of San Giovanni Rotondo, who had known and loved Padre Pio for so many years, broke the silence of the procession. I saw men and women, priests and religious, unashamedly and in public wipe away tears. From window sills people had hung either their best bedspread, or their best tablecloth, or sometimes even a Persian carpet, and in its center there hung a framed picture of Padre Pio, surrounded by black cloth. Everybody was wearing his Sunday best. Flowers were strewn from many windows, and at times even from a helicopter that followed the whole funeral march.
"The procession took more than three hours through the streets of San Giovanni Rotondo. Many a Rosary and litany of Our Lady were begun and finished before the procession returned to the church piazza for the outdoor funeral Mass. Father General and twenty-six other friars concelebrated this Mass. A magnificent eulogy was preached. It was all so beautiful and all so fitting for the man who for fifty long years had born the wounds of Our Lord on his body. As I walked in the procession and observed the people, I was reminded of a similar procession I had often read about. In 1226 the body of St. Francis of Assisi was also carried in procession. He too was a stigmatist. He too was very much loved by his town's people. When he died near the little chapel of Our Lady of the Angels, the Portiuncula, the friars had to bring him for the funeral services to Assisi. It was also a distance of a mile and a half. I can well imagine the thousands of people that must have lined the streets of Assisi or hung from their windows to get a last glimpse of this Saint. The similarity of the processions was amazing. Neither Assisi nor San Giovanni Rotondo was a town rich in material things, but both were honored with a stigmatist, a holy man of God."
His body is entombed in the crypt of Our Lady of Grace Church at the monastery in San Giovanni Rotondo. The Saint said that a body should be buried where its souls departed from it. Padre Pio's beloved mother, who had died in his arms while she visited him for Christmas in 1929, is also buried in San Giovanni Rotondo Rotundo, next to her husband, who died in 1946, after he had made the monastery his home in his old age.
By November of the following year, the first phase in the cause of his canonization had already begun.
Other sources: Who is Padre Pio? and From the Housetops.