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Happy Birthday Padre Pio: One of Italy’s Most Beloved Saints

Padre Pio, whose birth name is Francesco Forgione, was an Italian priest, canonized as one of Italy’s most beloved saints of the Roman Catholic Church. He was also the only saint to be recognized as bearing the marks of the stigmata, the wounds of Jesus Christ – these were open, continually bleeding wounds on his hands, side, and feet that mimicked the wounds Jesus received upon his Crucifixion. And while many construed these unexplainable marks, which he bore for five decades, as a sign of Padre Pio’s holiness, others in the country viewed them as a source of controversy.

Born on May 25, 1887 into a large, poor, and devout Roman Catholic family in Pietrelcina, a town in the Benevento area in the southern region of Campania, Padre Pio consecrated himself to Jesus at a young age. At 15, he joined the Capuchin order and took the new name Pio in honor of St. Pius I, a Roman saint and pope who ruled from roughly 142 to 155 AD.

Padre Pio had a series of health issues throughout his life. Enlisted into the Italian military in 1915 for World War I, he was soon discharged for his poor health. While praying in front of a large crucifix one day in 1918, Padre Pio received the stigmata, making him the first stigmatized priest in the history of the Catholic Church. These wounds drew a number of pilgrims to him for his saintly guidance and spiritual counsel. 

The five divine markings Padre Pio received stayed open and bleeding on his body until his death in 1968. For many devout Italians, they were a sign of his deep and true union with God. Nonetheless, their unexplainable presence was a source of doubt and suspicion for many who believed they were self-inflicted and set with acid to remain open. Contemporary reports have also suggested that Padre Pio regularly engaged in sexual relationships with female congregants, and had a questionable friendly relationship with Italian fascists, some going as far to insinuate that the canonized saint was a “charlatan.”

Regardless of the true origin of Padre Pio’s stigmata, and the theories that abound about his actions, there is no denying that the saint was and continues to be one of the country’s most beloved holy figures.  Pope John Paul II canonized Padre Pio as a saint in 2002, 34 years after his death, and more than 300,000 people crowded in St. Peter’s Square to watch the ceremony.

Asia London Palomba

Asia London Palomba is a trilingual freelance journalist from Rome, Italy. In the past, her work on culture, travel, and history has been published in The Boston Globe, Atlas Obscura, The Christian Science Monitor, and Grub Street, New York Magazine's food section. In her free time, Asia enjoys traveling home to Italy to spend time with family and friends, drinking Hugo Spritzes, and making her nonna's homemade cavatelli.