Padre Pio (Francesco Forgione) was born on 25th May 1887, in a small agricultural town in the Province of Benevento. Padre Pio always remembered his native town. "It is in my heart", he wrote to his brother Michael on 22nd January 1926.
Padre Pio called the capuchin church (started 1926) "The Holy Family".
According to the words of a young seminarian, who was present at the time, around the year 1909 when the young capuchin was still brother Pio, "during one of our usual walks, arriving in the area where the friary is now, he made us stop, told us to be quiet and to listen. He heard an angels' choir and bells ringing from a nearby place, he showed us a deserted spot of the road"…
The Holy Writers had clearly predicted the place and the year of his birth (of Jesus) even if it seemed as if nobody knew about the great event.
Only later on, He was visited by the shepherds, who were looking after their flock.
The heavenly souls told them about the happening. (Epist.n IV p. 971)
On 4th October 1604, as a desire of one of the benefactors of the town the cross and the first stone of the friary were laid. It was finished in 1631. On 25th January 1904 Padre Pio went there for his high school studies. Padre Pio stayed here for a long period: 4 years.
Here young Padre Pio was attacked by the demon: "During the summer of 1905, Padre Pio heard some noises coming from a nearby cell".
There was a strong smell of sulphur, young Pio went to the window to call a school friend.
Not receiving any answer he went back inside to find a frightening black dog, who had smoke coming from his mouth. Padre Pio fell on the bed and heard the animal shouting: 'It's him, it's him'. Then the creature jumped out of the window. Bilocation was another supernatural event that took place here in January 1905. Padre Pio says that while he was in the choir he found himself in a house where a child was being born and her Father was dying. Our Lady told Padre Pio that he had to look after that child. "Let us ask this Holy Baby to clothe us with humility, because only with this virtue can we enjoy this which is full of divine tenderness." (Epist. IV p. 972)
The date of foundation of the church 'S. Maria del Monte' is unknown. It was built as a tomb for the Feudal Families. On 25th May 1905 the Shrine was given to the capuchins to guide the devotees. When he was a young professed friar Padre Pio would often go to the church of 'S.Maria del Monte' to help with the Religious Functions. In October 1909, Padre Pio because of his ill health was sent to the Shrine of S.Maria del Monte, which is situated at a height of 800m.
"The heavenly child suffers and cries in the crib so that we may love, merit and search for suffering, he possesses nothing so that we may learn to live without goods and comfort, he is happy with the humble and the poor devotees, so that we may, like him, love poverty and prefer the company of the little and humble than that of the important people in the world".
(epist. IV - p. 720).
The marquis Gianbattista Pignatelli, lord of the town, called the capuchins in 1585 and built for them a friary in the place where a modest chapel dedicated to St. Lawrence had been situated. It was closed in 1811 and opened again in 1818 and abandoned in 1867 because of the Suppression law. The town inhabitants called back the capuchins in 1901. Padre Pio went there different times. In 1905-190? At the end of his secondary studies and in 1918 (April-May). Here he met Father Benedetto of S. Marco in Lamis who became his spiritual director till 1922. Brother Pio was always charitable.
"Poverty, humiliation, degradation, contempt, surround Jesus but we understand one thing, see one voice and one truth of the word made flesh: all this was done for love, and he invites us to love, talk to us about love and give proof of his love". (Epist. IV p.972 )
The Friary is situated 2 km outside the town, in the district of St.Egidio. It was built in 1625. The capuchins of the religious Province of Naples were there till in 1867 they were sent away because of the Repression law. It was later assigned to the capuchins from Foggia. On 15th November 1900 it was opened again. Gioacchino Pecci dwelled in the friary in 1837, because of his ill health; also Pope Leone XIII. Padre Pio didn't stay here much. He arrived at the end of November 1908 and left at the beginning of the following year, because due to his ill health Father Agostino took him back to Pietrelcina.
Father Paolino from Casacalenda says about him: "he was a handsome young man, you couldn't tell he was ill… he was very good and kind". "May the heavenly child allow your hearts to also feel the holy emotions that I felt during the holy night, when he was
placed in the poor crib". (Letters III pag. 982).
Gesualdo and Montefusco are near one another. The prince Don Carlo Gesualdo paid for this Friary; it belonged to the Monastic Province of Naples. It was abandoned after 1866 and was given to the Foggia Capuchins in 1905. In 1980 it was damaged by the earthquake and it is being restored. Here, brother Pio spent more or less a month, as a student of moral theology. His stay was brief, as his school friends recall.
Father Guglielmo of San Giovanni Rotondo, a noviciate friend "… in our friary you could feel a great emptiness ; we lived waiting and hoping, this would make us happy and also made us always feel Padre Pio's presence."
"How inflamed must our heart feel towards the one who has come for us! How must we burn with the desire of bringing the entire world to the humble crib, shelter of the king of kings, bigger than all the human royal palaces, because it is the throne and home of God". (Epist. IV p. 972)
The friary was built by benefactors and the Town Hall funds in 1573. In October 1911 doctor Antonio Carderelli after visiting Padre Pio sent him to Venafro. Because the doctor had said that the young friar was dying and that he couldn't face a long journey so as the friary of Venafro was the nearest he had to go there.
In this period the fraternity noticed his first supernatural phenomena: divine ecstasies which would last even over an hour and diabolical apparitions, which didn't last long.
Padre Pio would recognise them saying: "Di viva Gesu".
"In the middle of the night, in the coldest season , in the coldest crib, that looked more like a sheep's shelter the Messia was born- Jesus Saviour of men" (Letters III p. 971)
He arrived on 17th February 1916 and left on 4th September. He was always joyful and witty, with the confrères, but he had often a high fever.
Together with the fever and the religious distress, the devil started to persecute him. Padre Pio wouldn't have supper and he would go to his cell.
One evening while the other friars were in the refectory a loud noise was heard coming from his room, situated above the refectory. When the devil visited the friar you would find him covered with sweat and he would have to be changed. The noises stopped when the Provincial, Father Benedetto of S. Marco in Lamis, told Padre Pio that he wished not to hear them any more. Padre Pio prayed and the Lord granted his prayer. The noises stopped but the assaults of the devil did not end, he would always choose the same hour, to torment poor Padre Pio. "Why Lord, why the sweet and loveable condition of the small Bethlehem child, if not to make us love him completely and confide in him?"
(Epist. IV p. 346)
The Capuchins went to S. Giovanni Rotondo in 1540 and built the friary on a small hill at the foot of mount Nero, with a cross that still today can be seen in the square of the shrine. Padre Pio arrived on 28th July 1916. It was supposed to be a temporary stay because of his ill health.
He went back to Foggia on 5th August of the same year, and returned to San Giovanni Rotondo on 4th September after a few absences due to military and spiritual reasons. After that Padre Pio never left the friary. Here he received the stigmata and many supernatural events took place. We would like to mention one, as it refers to the crib, described by Fr. Raffaele of St. Elia a Pianisi. "I slept in a little cell, almost in front of the cell n°5 where Padre Pio was. I don't know why probably because of the heat, around midnight I got up. The corridor was dark with only a light coming from a small oil lamp. I was nearly going out of my room when Padre Pio arrived from the choir where he had been praying: "It was midnight Padre Pio was radiant and in his arms he had Baby Jesus, he was walking slowly while reciting prayers. He passed in front of me shining with light without even noticing my presence.
In 1959 the shrine of Our Lady of Grace was inaugurated and it is said that on that occasion Padre Pio asked his confrères. "have you built a matchbox?" he already knew that it was necessary to build a larger church for the thousands of devotees.
His desire came true on 16th May 1993 with the "building of the church" a new immense church designed by Renzo Piano.
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