Padre Pio and Our Lady

" 'Love our Lady. Recite the Rosary. May the Blessed Mother of God reign supreme over your hearts.' These were the messages Padre Pio sent out continually to his spiritual sons and daughters near and far. This was the order he issued and the legacy he left to all, springing from his own ardent love for the Mother of God.

"His love for Our Blessed Lady was a tender love, the love of a son who believes and hopes and trusts. It was no sentimental piety expressed in fine phrases, but a deep love resulting from constant meditation which gradually influenced his whole life. His own mother  . . . was deeply devoted to Mary the Mother of God. In the little rural centre in which he was born, devotion to the Madonna has been an outstanding characteristic of the people's religion for many centuries. In this respect the Pietrelcinese share a heritage common to the whole of southern Italy. Shrines to Our Blessed Lady, honoured under a great variety of titles, are to be found all over the region." [Padre Pio: His Life and Mission, Mary E. Ingoldsby, p. 127.]

As a young boy Francesco Forgione made pilgrimages with others from his town to various Marian shrines, including Our Lady of Pompeii.

The image above was carried in procession by the people of the region every year, the highlight of a festival.

We have a number of charming vignettes about his devotion to Our Lady under various titles, from those who knew the Saint:

When Francesco was leaving for the Capuchin novitiate, the singular gift his mother bestowed upon him was a large Rosary, which is maintained in the archives of the Postulation in San Giovanni Rotondo. He cherished this Rosary which he carried all his life, along with a picture of "our own Madonna" as he referred to Our Lady Liberatrix. The title Our Lady Liberatrix (Madonna della Libera) goes back very far in the history of that region. [Ibid., p. 128.] In the seventh century, when the little dukedom of Benevento was besieged by the Byzantine Emperor Constans II, the saintly local bishop who is known today as San Barbato led his people in prayer to Our Blessed Lady with the intention of freeing (liberare) the city from the fury of the Greeks. Their prayer was heard and San Barbato spread devotion to Our Lady under the title of Liberatrix. "In his youth Padre Pio venerated the Mother of God under this title, which has special import in Pietrelcina even today. The little town celebrates a feast in honour of its Madonna more than once during the year, in grateful thanks for past favours." [Ibid.]

In 1854 Pietrelcina was ravaged by cholera. At the beginning of December it seemed as if the population would be wiped out completely. "Dozens were dying each day," says the local historian. " [Ibid.] On the third day of that month the whole population gathered at the church to pray at the feet of  Our Lady of Liberatrix. Then her statue was carried through the streets because the people were convinced that would flee before her image, which is exactly what happened: "from that day the disease claimed no more victims and the people were convinced that Our Lady of the Libera had obtained this grace for their town". [Ibid.]

Under this title, the Mother of God has often come to the assistance of her petitioners in Pietrelcina, water during times of drought so that the crops would have a good yield, and the protection of the fields from hail-storms.

A most special grace from Our Lady occurred at the turn of the last century.

The day is Palm Sunday 1906, and the church in the castle district was packed for high Mass at noon. To everyone's surprise the sun-brushed sky turned black as ink, as if night had come. A tempest of a thunderstorm struck with such fury that the parishioners were not able to hear the priest's words----moreover the storm came in the form of not just water, but clay and stones! They were so frightened that they cried out and wept for it appeared as if the end of the world was upon them. Then they began to pray most fervently to our Lord and His Blessed Mother. As suddenly as the storm had erupted, it subsided, the sun came out and everyone could walk back home. The explanation of this phenomenon only reached Pietrelcina some days later. They later learned that the stones and other debris which pelted the church was
formed of ashes and cinders, from a violent eruption of Vesuvius over fifty miles distance.

"Although there is feasting and music in the piazza, including fireworks without which no southern Italian fiesta would be complete, the feast of Our Lady Liberatrix is an essentially religious celebration with a preparatory novena which is always well attended. In Padre Pio's letters, written during his prolonged stay in Pietrelcina as a young priest, there is frequent mention of this celebration and Padre Agostino, his Confessor at the time, was invited more than once to preach for the occasion." [Ibid., p.129]

The wooden statue of Our Lady Liberatrix, the work of a seventeenth-century Neapolitan artist, was formerly venerated in a church that lay just outside Pietrelcina, which was destroyed by a landslide; the statue was removed to the  parochial church where it can be seen today. It was restored and repainted in 1965 and on July 17,1966 the Vatican Chapter assigned to it a golden crown in recognition of the part it had played for centuries in the people's devotion to Mary. In a solemn ceremony on August 6, 1966, the crown was placed on the head of the Madonna by Mgr. Raffaele Calabria, Archbishop of Benevento. Padre Pio, in his friary at San Giovanni Rotondo many miles away, rejoiced along with his townsfolk. Some of the older folk in Pietrelcina tell how they used to see him as "a young Capuchin priest of thoughtful and ascetical appearance, transfigured before the statue of his beloved Madonna" as he prayed there each day during his enforced residence at home.  [Ibid., p. 130.]

Our Saint was blessed with a deep contemplative knowledge of Mary's role in our salvation, the closer he felt to her, the closer he said he felt to jesus, her Son. In a letter he sent May 6, 1913 to Padre Agostino he wrote:

"This most tender Mother, in her great mercy, wisdom and goodness, has been pleased to punish me in a most exalted manner by pouring so many and such great graces into my heart that when I am in her presence and in that of Jesus I am compelled to exclaim: 'Where am I? Who is this who is near me?' I am all aflame although there is no fire. I feel myself held fast and bound to the Son by means of this Mother, without seeing the chains which bind me so tightly." [Ibid.]
His devotion to the Mother of God can best be said to be continued, uninterrupted prayer, especially the Rosary, some days he managed 200 decades.

Padre Pietro Tartaglia, Guardian of the friary in San Giovanni Rotondo in 1978, said:

"I can see him today as he appeared to me when I was a youngster. It was beautiful to see him there in the silence of his cell when we Capuchin aspirants went to him for Confession. The dim light gave a mystical touch to his emaciated but radiant countenance. Near him was . . . a little statue of Our Lady and he spoke to us about her and taught us to love her. At a certain hour he used to walk in the friary garden, absorbed in his sufferings and his love while the beads slipped through the fingers of his wounded hands. And how full and ardent was his voice when he recited the Angelus with the others."  [Ibid., pp. 130-131.]

"From his earliest years Padre Pio cherished a tender filial love for the Blessed Virgin honoured as Our Lady of Pompeii and on many occasions he went to her shrine near the ruined city. In 1901, at the age of fourteen, he made a pilgrimage there with seven of his schoolmates accompanied by their teacher. His mother does not seem to have been very happy about that trip and complained about it in a letter to her husband who had emigrated to America to earn some extra money for his son's studies. When his father wrote to young Francesco from America the boy answered him in order to justify his trip to Pompeii: 'As regards my going to Pompeii, you are quite right. However, you ought to remember that next year, please God, all holidays and amusements will be over for me when I abandon this life to embrace a better one.' "
[Ibid., pp. 134.]

Even while he served in the army as a young friar, he took every opportunity to pay a visit to  Pompeii from Naples where he was stationed, to pray to Our Lady. When he left army service for a six months' convalescence in 1917, he went again to thank Our Lady  of Pompeii for this grace. He made one novena after another novena for a return to conventual life, though still obliged by ill health to stay in his own home. He also prayed to her for what he called his "speedy departure", by which he meant his death. He asked  his directors and to others bound to him by spiritual ties to say novenas to Our Lady of Pompeii for his intentions. It was to the Virgin Mother of God honoured under this title that he also directed his fervent prayers to be finally exempt from the military, which he found was both physical and spiritual torture. At last he was granted a return to his community and a discharge from the army, but the "speedy departure" would not be for half a century. In 1968, when he knew that he was dying, it was to Our Lady of Pompeii that he turned, to thank her from the depths of his heart.

Meanwhile, in our narrative, after having briefly looked forward in Padre Forgione's life with the Mother of God, it is still 1917; World War I is drawing to a cessation; Our Blessed Lady appears in Fatima. St. Pio has experienced the hardship of life in a military barracks. Now he  meditates deeply on the Fatima message, "and in response to Our Lady's invitation prayed without ceasing that the Divine mercy might prevail over the Divine justice." [Ibid., p. 135.] No one of Catholic faith and with their wits about them can deny the connection between the apparitions in Fatima and the justice of God-----and what is just as certain, of that between this justice and the victim state, the state of those souls who offer themselves in reparation for the sins of men against God, to appease His Divine Majesty. It was through the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima that St. Pio obtained a true miracle for himself, he who was the inspiration and pathway of so many miraculous graces for others. He had been ill with pleurisy since May of 1959 and the doctors had discovered a lung tumor, so that his life was in mortal danger. It was not coincidence that it was then that the pilgrim statue of Our Lady of Fatima was being transported throughout Italy in the  Peregrinatio Mariae or Rosary Caravan. "On  August 5, in the last days of the pilgrimage, the statue was brought to San Giovanni Rotondo in a helicopter, which circled over the Capuchin friary. Before the image departed, Padre Pio addressed a fervent prayer from his sick-bed to Our Blessed Lady in the following words: 'My dear Mother, since your arrival in Italy I have been reduced to helplessness by this illness, and now that you are leaving have you nothing to give me?' At once he felt a mysterious strength invade his body and he exclaimed to his confreres: 'I'm cured!' Shortly afterwards a local paper in Foggia published an article asking why the Pilgrim Virgin should have been taken to San Giovanni Rotondo and not to the famous shrine of St. Michael in Monte Santangelo higher up on Mount Gargano, a place of pilgrimage for centuries. When one of the Capuchins drew Padre Pio's attention to this complaint, he replied quite simply: 'Our Lady came here because she wanted to cure Padre Pio!' " [Ibid.]

He once said , "Always hold the weapon of Mary tight in your hand. It will bring you victory over your enemies." [
From the Housetops, p. 13.] Our blessed friar was able to do more than one thing at a time and well, thus it was possible for him to recite so many Rosaries, a set of beads being a permanent fixture in his hands. He was often seen in conversation while the beads were filing one by one through his fingers. He paid tribute to Our Lady once by saying, "May Mary fill your heart with the flowers and fragrance of ever-fresh virtues, and place her maternal hand on your head. Always keep close to our Heavenly Mother, because she is the sea that must be crossed, in order to reach the shores of eternal splendor in the kingdom of dawn." [Ibid.] Padre Pio exclaimed that those who thought they could go through life without the assistance of the Blessed Virgin were foolish. She would come to him many times when he had special need of her. A priest asked him if she ever appeared to him and Padre pio replied "Why not ask me instead if she ever leaves my room?"

Our holy card image is not in good shape, but we managed to remove the worst stains and cracks. This is one of the loveliest of the old type of paper holy cards in color; as far as I know it is no longer available for sale. I did an extensive search on the web with three major engines. If it is available, it is going by another title, for whatever reason. I bypassed E-Bay for practical reasons.