In San Giovanni Rotondo the wind is blowing through the trees planted in the square in front of the large sanctuary. Although Padre Pio’s mortal remains are temporarily not in the crypt, the pilgrims continue to visit the places where the humble Capuchin of Pietrelcina lived for many years. You breathe the same atmosphere as always, but something is missing. You do cannot see many fluttering robes. There only a few monks left in the basilica designed by Renzo Piano, the minimum required for the celebration of the sacred offices. The greatest part of the convent is in Rome, together with the relics of the saint whom they have been revering and protecting for years.
In the capital, thousands of faithful packed the basilica of San Lorenzo at Verano to pay tribute to the “saint of mercy”. The Capuchins from San Giovanni Rotondo welcome the pilgrims. There is also Father Marciano Morra among them. He is the last of the brothers who lived with the saint of Pietrelcina to be alive. He highlights a characteristic Padre Pio had that only a few people know: joy. “He was a suffering man, and those who suffer, do not feel like laughing. He could not walk because of the wounds (stigmata) or high fever. And these are only his physical pains. Confessions were a torment. He heard all the time: ‘I blasphemed Our Lady’. He felt offended, struck in the heart. Let alone slander. Despite all this, when he was at the monastery with us, or with friends, he was the man of joy”.
Brother Marciano recalls a curtain they had in the convent corridors. A painter awaited the saint holding a canvas where he had painted his face. “It was an ugly painting. He asks: ‘Who is this?’ The painter replied: ‘Father, it is you. I would like you to sign it write a few words on it’. The saint asked a pen and wrote: ‘Do not be afraid, it is me: Padre Pio’. He was always ready to answer with a joke! He also used to tell jokes, like the one about the farmer who had never traveled and had to take the train. He goes to the train station and asks the railway worker to give him a ticket and the man tells him: ‘If you have to go and return the same day, you should buy a round-trip to save’. The farmer agrees and gets on the train, which at the time still traveled thanks to coal. It was a beautiful day. When the train entered a tunnel, the light disappeared and smoke got into the wagon. The man, frightened, screams and asks: ‘Where are we?’ A passenger tells him: ‘In hell!’ The farmer: ‘I am happy I have paid for a round-trip!’ Padre Pio was a holy man of joy.”
Everyone is familiar with his harshness during confession. “Many times he raised his voice and reproached – Father Marciano recalls -. Why? It is the image of the father of the family. Who make his children behave well and gives good advice… But if a child changes his way, the father has to do something, he has to bring him back on the righteous path. If he does not do so, he is not a good dad. Padre Pio was a good dad. when he was in front of a penitent who confessed his sins, but had no intention to change direction and change his life, he raised his voice and rebuked him! It is a slap in the face of the people who have always held up the cappuccino as a moralist who reproached his brothers.
The transference of his relics to Rome has given new charm to the figure of the monk. Yet, according to Padre Pio’s confreres, it does not matter: “It does not take much to get involved by action and organization… It must give us, friars, food for thought. We are called to follow into his steps and walk the way he opened; we are friars of the people. We must pray, because nothing can be done without prayer.”
The common thread that connects Pope Francis to Padre Pio offers food for thought too. Both bear the name of Saint Francis of Assisi (in the world, in fact, the stigmatic Capuchin’s name was Francis Forgione), both are “missionaries” of mercy and both warned sinners. “It is beautiful – Father Marciano continues -. We can say that the Pope is imitating Francis of Assisi a lot, but in the field of leadership of the people, he inspires himself a lot also to Padre Pio because he is modern. Pope Francis is modern too, hence their contexts are quite similar. He is helpful also for Pope Francis, not only through his intercession from the sky, but also through the witness of his life.”
Padre Pio embodies the teaching St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians: “Let there be no other glory for me except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal 6, 14). The Capuchin “put the Cross of his Lord as his strength, wisdom, and glory” above everything else in his life. He was burning with love for Christ and conformed to Him in everything. He gave to people the treasures God had given him, serving men and women who flocked towards him more and more numerous, generating a huge crowd of spiritual sons and daughters who carry on his mission in the world.