His Love for the Catholic Church
Padre Pio had three great loves: Christ, the Church and Our Lady, which were in actuality three aspects of the same devotion, as it must be by the very nature of the Divine plan. It was because of his adherence to these precepts, Church teaching, its right to govern and its power to sanctify that we are able to understand his attitude towards the Church and towards religious authority during those extremely painful years when this very authority which he loved and esteemed was the very cause of much suffering to him. To undergo torment and persecution by the enemies of Christ is a severe test, but the most severe of all is that which we must endure because those we love and respect are the very ones who are inflicting this pain. Our perplexity increases the infliction.
A scrutiny of the life of our humble friar, never reveals anything but filial submission to his superiors and the Holy See itself, which had to investigate certain charges brought against him, unjustly; never once would he permit anyone to insert themselves on his behalf. "He always hastened to make it clear that we must never question the orders which come from superiors, but simply abide by them and carry them out to the best of our ability." [Padre Pio: His Life and Mission, Mary E. Ingoldsby, p. 118.] The same author tells us:
"Although he visited Rome only once, in 1917 when his sister was about to become a Bridgettine nun, his thoughts went frequently to the home of Christ's Vicar. In the first years of his obligatory sojourn in his own home, it was to Pope St. Pius X that his filial thoughts were directed. He undoubtedly loved this pope with a great love, as we learn from his letters at the time. When this great pontiff, broken-hearted at the outbreak of World War I, passed to his eternal reward, Padre Pio was deeply affected, as is obvious from a letter he wrote to Padre Agostino on 7 September 1914."
He wrote that he hoped and prayed that the Church might have a "worthy successor to the great Pope Pius X, whose equal Rome has never known" and he went on to speak of him as "the first, the greatest and most innocent victim of the fratricidal war" which had just broken out. [Ibid.]
That successor was Giacomo della Chiesa, Pope Benedict XV, whom he had seen the previous year in Rome, and it was this pontiff whose reign would coincide with Fr. Forgione receiving the stigmata; Benedict XV would be the first pope to take an interest in the friar from San Giovanni:
When news of this special grace from God, the only time granted to a priest, hit the press, it sparked a sensation. The story somehow was leaked from the friary in 1919, and as is usual in these situations, there arose several inaccurate reports. Pope Benedict, wanting the truth, rather than rumors, sent Mgr. Benvenuto Ceretti, Titular Archbishop of Corinth and later a cardinal, to look into the matter, with a favorable report to the Holy See. The Roman pontiff sent further legates to follow the course of events on Mount Gargano and in a message to the Archbishop of Manfredonia stated that "while it was well to proceed cautiously, it was not good to be so incredulous".
"Later, from his personal conviction of Padre Pio's genuine holiness, the same pope was to refer to him as 'one of those really extraordinary men whom God sends on earth from time to time for the conversion of mankind.' A reliable witness, Doctor Giorgio Festa, in a book published in 1949, reports several occasions on which Pope Benedict spoke out in favour of Padre Pio." [Ibid., p. 119.]
It was not until the next pontificate, that of Pope Pius XI, that our Saint had to endure a series of painful trials which in the end resulted in his favor, but not before Rome declared that it found "nothing supernatural in the facts attributed to him", while the faithful were exhorted to keep away from him.
It is thought that this period of his life was the most difficult, serving to to show his profound devotion and attachment to the Church and his absolute loyalty to Christ's Vicar on earth. Pope Pius XI had been chosen in 1922, the same year that Padre Pio "was forbidden to have any further contact with his own spiritual director, Padre Benedetto." [Ibid.] This was an enormous hardship: he and Padre Benedetto never saw one another again over the course of twenty years!
In fact, various exhortations, orders and decrees deprived him of almost all his priestly faculties. He remained the gentle lamb, docile in the face of such repressive measures,
bearing for the love of his crucified Lord the deluge of calumny that rained down on him. The last piercing blow was the arrival of a decree from the Holy Office, dated May 13, 1931, addressed to the Father General of the order. The local Superior had the sorry task to tell the saintly friar that he was prohibited from saying Mass publicly and from hearing Confessions.
When he was told all of this, he merely raised his eyes to Heaven and said: "May God's will be done!" Padre Pio was never heard to complain but continued to be humble, obedient, and above all, patient with all.
In addition he was forbidden to show the marks of the stigmata, although permitted to practice acts of mortification. [From the Housetops, Vol. XXXIX, No. 2, Serial No, 78, p. 11.]
Now, holy priests are filled with the zeal for the salvation of souls, so these restrictions on his priestly office could only have caused him intense grief. His spiritual advisor said that both of them shed tears together. This friar told Padre Pio that "You must remain on the Cross, . . . and men will continue to drive in the nails. All will be for God's glory and the good of souls." To this he replied: "It is precisely because of souls that I feel it so much." [Padre Pio: His Life and Mission, Mary E. Ingoldsby, p. 121.]
He was heard to say, many times: "The hand of the Church is gentle even when it strikes us, for it is always our mother's hand." [Ibid.]
In 1933 Pope Pius XI ordered a careful examination of the sources from which the accusations against Padre Pio had come. Because of the findings he realized that the charges and the circumstances surrounding them were false and the case mischaracterized; and that the position taken up by the Holy Office was erroneous. He quickly made it known that those in high positions in the Church had been misled, "the ban was lifted and Padre Pio came down once more to the little public church to say Mass and hear Confessions. Pius XI assumed a benevolent attitude towards this priest who was now close to his heart and he never showed any regret for having reversed his decision." [Ibid.] In San Giovanni Rotondo Padre Pio, while the friars applauded unanimously and cried out: "Long live the pope!", arose, then kneeled before the Provincial, beseeching him to thank the pope for him for this great grace.
It is now March of 1933 and Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli has ascended to the papal chair as Pius XII. Pius gave his blessings to the undertakings of the San Giovanni friar, overjoyed to hear of the conversions and other spiritual benefits though the ministry of the humble Capuchin in a remote friary in the mountains.
Meanwhile there were here and there attempts by some within the Church to minimize doctrine and discipline, modernism had not been vanquished completely by St. Pius X and was now making its reappearance on the scene in the minds and hearts of men. Padre Pio held firmly to Tradition, because like St. Catherine of Siena, the pope was the "sweet Christ on earth". His first prayer in the morning was for the pope reigning at the time. He would not countenance in his presence the smallest joke, however innocent sounding, about the pope's authority and the authority superiors. As he entered the end of his life he sometimes expressed fears and doubts about the state of the Church, when he saw the danger of a progressive spirit away from Tradition.
He was known to be severe in his treatment of some of his friends who attacked authority. When he was informed that he must not take more than half-an-hour to say Mass he replied: "God knows that I want to say Mass just like any other priest, but I don't succeed." [Ibid., p. 124.] When a friar questioned his unquestioning submission to the authority of the Church he answered, "If I had not had holy Church behind me with her love and especially with her severity, perhaps I might have been drowned in a sea of doubt and uncertainty, or perhaps I might have become indifferent to the salvation of souls." Then raising his voice he said slowly: "For me the severity of the Church has been a refuge." [Ibid.]
Just ten days before he surrendered his soul to Almighty God, he had written to Pope Paul VI to tell him that he was praying that grace would lead him to follow the straight and painful path in defense of truth which cannot change as it is eternal, like our precious souls.