Great War veteran Francesco Pio of Pietrelcina (25 May 1887–23 September 1968), a Catholic priest from Italy, was canonized as a saint by Pope John Paul II in 2002, but his saintly life began over a century earlier.
|Padre Pio in the Army|
Saint Pio claimed that he began his devotion to God from the young age of just five! His mother claimed that the young Pio could see and speak with both Jesus and the Virgin Mary. As he grew into a man, Pio was eventually drafted into the Kingdom of Italy’s army to serve during World War I. When the war started, four friars from this community were selected for military service. At that time, Padre Pio was a teacher at the seminary and a spiritual director. When one more friar was called into service, Padre Pio was put in charge of the community. On 15 November 1915, he was drafted into the Italian Army and on 6 December assigned to the 10th Medical Corps in Naples. Due to poor health, he was continually discharged and recalled until on 16 March 1918 he was declared unfit for military service and discharged. In all, his military service lasted 182 days. He then entered the monastery at San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy, never to leave until his death.
Indeed, throughout much of his life he suffered from a variety of ailments from arthritis to bronchitis. Yet, without any doubt, his most famous physical sufferings were reportedly supernatural in origin. In addition to bearing the stigmata (the wounds suffered by Christ in his torture and execution; notice Pio’s hands in the photograph below), Pio also experienced physical torments brought upon him by none other than the Devil, at least according to Pio’s followers.
These various spiritual afflictions date back to his World War I service. In July 1918, Pope Benedict XV, who had termed the World War "the suicide of Europe," appealed to all Christians urging them to pray for an end to the World War. On 27 July of the same year, Padre Pio offered himself as a victim for the end of the war. Days passed and between 5 August and 7 August , Padre Pio had a vision in which Christ appeared and pierced his side. As a result, Padre Pio had a physical wound in his side. This occurrence is considered as a "transverberation" or piercing of the heart, indicating the union of love with God.
|Padre Pio Showing the Stigmata During Mass|
On 20 September 1918, accounts state that the pains of the transverberation had ceased and Padre Pio was in "profound peace." On that day, as Padre Pio was engaged in prayer in the choir loft in the Church of Our Lady of Grace, the same being who had appeared to him and given him the transverberation, and who is believed to be the Wounded Christ, appeared again, and Padre Pio had another experience of religious ecstasy. When the ecstasy ended, Padre Pio had received the visible stigmata, the five wounds of Christ. This time, the stigmata were permanent. They stayed visible for the next 50 years of his life. From then and on throughout the remainder of his life and even afterward, they have been the subject of controversy with numerous commentators criticizing his claims as resting upon anecdotal evidence.
Despite the controversy, Pio remains a celebrated saint among Catholics. Indeed, today 23 September is recognized as the Feast of Padre Pio.
Other Catholic saints who served in the war include St. Ricardo Pampuri, Italian Army and Medical Corps, and St. Pope John XXIII, medical corpsman and chaplain.
Sources: History Headlines and Wikipedia