About Ignatius Insight
  Who We Are
  Ignatius Press
  Ignatius Press catalogs
  Catholic World Report
  Homiletic & Pastoral Review
  IP Novels site
  IP Religious Ed blog
  IP Critical Editions

"He invited me to partake of his sorrows..." | Vittorio Messori | From the Foreword to Padre Pio Under Investigation: The Secret Vatican Files by Francesco Castelli | Ignatius Insight

Print-friendly version

An exceptional document

"The future will reveal what today cannot be read in the life of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina." These words, written in January 1922 by Msgr. Raffaello Carlo Rossi, Bishop of Volterra-Inquisitor in San Giovanni Rotondo by order of the Holy Office in June 1921, when Padre Pio was just thirty-four years old—were then certainly a way to "cover his back", and avoid locking in too small a cage a man and a situation which to the prelate, sent on a reconnaissance mission to evaluate the stigmatic friar and the environment around him, had seemed—as we shall see—certainly out of the ordinary, but also substantially healthy and sincere. But those words were, at the same time, too easy a prophecy.

When we read them now—with Padre Pio having been proclaimed a saint in 2002, after many disagreements and vicissitudes—we can't help smiling. We now know very well what the future has said about that friar, rich since childhood in extraordinary charisms, but also—and I would say necessarily—subjected to a special attention on the part of the Church, and to a severity that often seemed excessive.

And we know it because, despite his humility and his reserve, the mission to which he had been called had an enormous echo, crossing all borders and channeling millions of pilgrims toward San Giovanni Rotondo. An event which, however one may have judged it, had captured the attention of everyone, believers and non-believers, helping considerably to strengthen the faith of many.

We should then know practically everything about him, since much has been written, both at a scholarly level and for the general public. But it is not so, as this volume by historian Fr. Francesco Castelli demonstrates. The book collects and analyzes what the jargon calls the Votum (that is, the final report of Msgr. Raffaello Carlo Rossi's inquiry, conducted, as noted, on behalf of the Holy Office), and other shorter texts like the Chronicle of Padre Pio, written by one of his spiritual directors, Fr. Benedetto Nardella of San Marco in Lamis.

These are almost entirely unpublished texts, and they are of remarkable documentary value: Since they were declared classified at that time, they didn't appear among the sources in the archives of San Giovanni Rotondo, and for this reason they were ignored for a long time. But in 2006, as is well known, Benedict XVI gave free access to the archives of the former Holy Office up until the year 1939, making it possible at last to examine what the archives held on the subject of the friar from Pietrelcina. The consequence of all this was the revival of the seemingly inexhaustible research on this saint, who has been long-loved and at the same time, in some circles, so discussed and looked upon with arrogant diffidence. These past few years have seen the arguments—both in favor and against the stigmatic Capuchin—rekindle, arguments that had apparently died down with the canonization.

Thus a volume by the Jewish historian Sergio Luzzatto, Padre Pio. Miracoli e Politica nell'Italia del Novecento, has caused great commotion. The book examines some documents kept in the former Holy Office, in particular the charge, attached to the Lemius Report, leveled by two pharmacists. The author, while briefly mentioning Monsignor Rossi's Visitation, meant to cast an ambiguous light on the stigmatic friar by relying on his detractors, first and foremost Father Gemelli. Luzzatto carries out his maneuver by insinuating doubts about the veracity of the stigmata, suggesting it would be impossible to rule out not only psychosomatic causes, but even chemical interventions to create and maintain them. According to this author, a great part of the "Padre Pio phenomenon" would actually be the fruit of the tight intertwining occurring at that time between the Church and Italian politics-in particular the phenomenon of clerical fascism, coupled with the fanaticism of the Catholic masses, which, according to Luzzatto, from the very beginning would have made the Capuchin untouchable—and with his own (at least partial) consent.

I have already noted elsewhere that Luzzatto's way of reading the events, by making use of historical and political, when not ideological, categories, is absolutely insufficient to describe and penetrate phenomena like the ones at issue, which, while belonging to history, at the same time transcend history. Only faith—which is not fanaticism or sentimentalism, as it would be sometimes convenient to portray it—grants that vision of the world, and hence of history, which allows for the hypothesis of God and accepts all of its consequences, including the one that he may work wonders in a person like Padre Pio and through him may powerfully intervene in the world.

Saverio Gaeta and Andrea Tornielli have accurately and vigorously answered Luzzatto in their volume Padre Pio. L'ultimo sospetto, in which they highlight not only the historian's numerous inaccuracies, but also his genuine mistakes and his frequent manipulation of the texts he uses to confirm his thesis. Gaeta and Tornielli did this by using various sources, and by quoting a few passages from the previously mentioned Holy Office inquiry, especially when countering the insinuations concerning the stigmata. Now in this volume that very document, to which only very few had had access, is published in its entirety for the general public, revealing the many never-published texts it contains. Some of these are of primary importance: more than two-thirds of the answers Padre Pio gives to the Inquisitor's questions; the Inquisitor's accurate examination of the friar's stigmata, which provides researchers with new and essential elements; a letter Padre Pio wrote to a nun; and, various letters Father Benedetto of San Marco in Lamis sent to Padre Pio.

The exceptional value of this document did not escape Francesco Castelli, who has presented it well, and who has performed a crucial historiographical task. At the same time he has offered everyone the opportunity to read it and to experience personally its peculiarity, but also its beauty; since a distinctive characteristic of this inquiry is the simplicity of its language: The curial bureaucratic jargon is kept to a minimum—thanks no doubt to Monsignor Rossi, as well—which makes for a smooth, and in some ways fascinating, read, and for an immediate understanding of the texts.

"I unite you with my Passion"

The emerging picture is truly very interesting. The Inquisitor tries to reconstruct what pertains to Padre Pio not only by interrogating and examining the Capuchin directly, but also by sounding out the closest witnesses: the priests in San Giovanni Rotondo and the friars of the convent.

This makes it possible for the reader to listen directly to Padre Pio narrating what happened to him and describing his state of mind during the events. With humble but meaningful brevity, he relates how he received the visible stigmata—since he had had invisible ones for a long time—on that September 20, 1918 (that is, three years earlier). It happened one morning, in the choir, while he was reciting his thanksgiving prayer after the Holy Mass: "[S]uddenly I was overtaken by a powerful trembling, then calm followed, and I saw our Lord in the posture of someone who is on a cross (but it didn't strike me whether he had the Cross), lamenting the ingratitude of men, especially those consecrated to him and by him most favored. This revealed his suffering and his desire to unite souls with his Passion. He invited me to partake of his sorrows and to meditate on them: At the same time, he urged me to work for my brothers' salvation. I felt then full of compassion for the Lord's sorrows, and I asked him what I could do. I heard this voice: 'I unite you with my Passion.' Once the vision disappeared, I came to, I returned to my senses, and I saw these signs here, which were dripping blood. I didn't have anything before."

Never before had the Capuchin so explicitly described such an important event. Especially, he had never revealed before that sentence, essential to understanding everything, that "I unite you with my Passion", which is the key to enter into the mystery of Padre Pio's life, together with that other sentence: "At the same time he urged me to work for my brothers' salvation." The exterior "signs" of the Passion, after the long time of preparation during which they were hidden, are given to him so that his mission may appear more evident: Conformed to Jesus, marked by his same wounds, tightly united to him in sorrow and love, he can be an instrument, a channel through which salvation can abundantly come to men.

An extraordinary and mind-blowing event, then; and yet, the Capuchin accepts it and lives through it in peace. Padre Pio admits he suffers much, physically: "Sometimes I cannot bear it", he confesses. He also acknowledges sometimes being frightened by the clamor that all this has provoked, even against his will: the rush to the convent of the faithful, ever more numerous; the pressure on the part of people devoted to him, especially women who later on will cause him so much trouble; and his ever-expanding correspondence, which threatens to overcome the little strength the convent of San Giovanni Rotondo still has. But he lives through it all calmly, every time realigning himself to the cross that was granted to him, trusting in God's help, and also in that of his Brothers and superiors.

And so, with great humility, he who is at the center of such exceptional charisms reveals the simplicity of his spiritual life, consisting of meditation, of formal prayers, and of the Rosary, said in its entirety. Asked whether he performs particular forms of penance, he candidly answers: "None: I take the ones the Lord sends." And, truth be told, we know there were not a few of them. Then he talks about the long hours spent in the confessional listening to people's sins, enlightening, admonishing, absolving.

Afterward, with the same humility and docility, he shows the Inquisitor all his sores, so that he can examine them carefully and describe them, as he did, and as we can now read, in a vividly realistic description that gives all the details. Padre Pio also makes clear that the rumored sore on his right shoulder did not exist, at least at that time. He never evaded, in any way, even the most difficult questions, not even the suspicion and doubts about the products some were insinuating he used to treat the sores.

The other friars, on the other hand, fill us with interesting details about his practical life and his humble nature—reserved in the most delicate matters, and yet playful: "In conversation, Padre Pio is very pleasant; with his Brothers, he is serene, jovial, even humorous." Truly surprising details, if we think about the constant physical pain and the psychological pressure that surrounded him. And so the Brothers tell about the very little he would eat even back then, the cup of chocolate which at that time was all his dinner, the glass of beer he would drink every now and then. Sketches of a life marked by the powerful seal of God, and yet simple and limpid.

At the end of his accurate and thorough inspection, the Inquisitor can't help but conclude: "Padre Pio is a good religious, exemplary, accomplished in the practice of the virtues, given to piety and probably elevated to a higher degree of prayer than it seems from the outside; he shines especially because of his sincere humility and his remarkable simplicity, which did not fail even in the gravest moments, when these virtues were put to the test, a test truly grave and dangerous for him." A man who seemed devoid of any mendacity, and whose deposition, then, "is to be considered sincere, since imposture and perjury would be in too stark a contrast with [his] life and virtues".

Even the environment around Padre Pio makes a good impression on Monsignor Rossi, who concludes: "The religious Community in which Padre Pio lives is a good Community and one that can be trusted."

Padre Pio Under Investigation: The Secret Vatican Files
by Francesco Castelli

Preface by Vittorio Messori

Padre Pio Under Investigation: The Secret Vatican Files
-- Electronic Book Download

On June 14, 1921, a priest knocks at the convent in San Giovanni Rotondo. He is in his early forties and wears a simple cassock, but he is no ordinary priest. He is Bishop Raffaello Carlo Rossi, future cardinal and the Apostolic Visitor sent by the Holy Office to investigate secretly Padre Pio.

The Bishop Inquisitor remains with the Capuchin Brothers for eight days, interrogating and recording depositions. He also interviews Padre Pio himself and examins the mysterious wounds of Christ that he bears on his body. After gathering all the evidence, the Inquisitor sketches his own evaluation of Padre Pio, which includes his reasons for believing that the stigmata are of divine origin. He sends his report and the depositions to Rome, where they stay buried for nearly a century.

Now, forty years after the saint's death, these exceptional documents are published in their entirety, thanks to the skillful research of Father Francesco Castelli. The documents in this book reveal every aspect of Padre Pio's life from his amazing supernatural gifts to his health. In his depositions, he admits, under oath, to the phenomenon of bi-location and to other supernatural charisms, and for the first time tells the detailed story of his stigmatization. Also included are letters from his spiritual father and a chronology of his life. Illustrated with black and white photos.

Father Francesco Castelli is the historian for the Cause of Beatification of Pope John Paul II and a Professor of Modern Church History at the Romano Guardini Institute of Religious Sciences in Taranto, Italy. He is a contributor to many publications, and has recently discovered and published Karol Wojtyla's third letter to Padre Pio. rb the spirit of his epoch as far as I could, and put less trust in the present-day judgments than in the abiding traditions of the ages. If I have perhaps evoked a little too much history and pursued rather too long a road in regions so rich with a past, I have always made sure to trace a path which brings us back to this intrepid and tenacious Jew who will steadily appear in stark relief." -- From the Preface

Visit the Insight Scoop Blog and read the latest posts and comments by IgnatiusInsight.com staff and readers about current events, controversies, and news in the Church!


World Wide Web


Place your order toll-free at 1-800-651-1531

Ignatius Press | San Francisco
Web design under direction of Ignatius Press.
Send your comments or web problems to:

Copyright 2018 by Ignatius Press

IgnatiusInsight.com catholic blog books insight scoop weblog ignatius