This year continues to see great blessings and celebrating in San Giovanni Rotondo!
Earlier this year, in February, at the request of His Holiness Pope Francis, Saint Pio was brought from San Giovanni Rotondo to Rome, along with fellow Capuchin Saint Leopold Mandic, where these two Friars, modern day examples of God's great mercy, especially bestowed in the Sacrament of Confession, were present as His Holiness greeted tens of thousands of members of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups from all over the world, and on Ash Wednesday sent out more than 1,000 Missionaries of Mercy with special a mandate to preach and confess. After his visit to Rome, Saint Pio traveled south to his birthplace of Pietrelcina, where on February 11 he was welcomed with great joy, after having departed from there 100 years before, not to physically return during his earthly life. After stopping in Foggia, at the Friary of Saint Ann and then spending a night in his greatest charitable work, La Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza, the hospital, the Home for the Relief of Suffering, Saint Pio's remains were returned to their resting place in the Lower Church of the great Basilica which bears his name.
Every summer, there is the local celebration, in June, in honor of Saint John the Baptist, for whom the town of San Giovanni Rotondo is named. The three day "Festa" brings out the entire town and is also enjoyed by the pilgrims who happen to be visiting at the time.
We remember our very first Festa di San Giovanni, in 1970! All of the family, six excited Calandra children and our parents along with friends from our hometown of Norristown, Pennsylvania, participated every evening. We visited the centuries old Church of Saint John the Baptist in the town's historic center, lining up with thousands of the local towns folk to enter the Church, festooned with fresh flowers and votive lights. Once inside, we became part of the natural flow of people. Candles were placed into our hands, each with its own little wax-paper cup intended to shield the wind, and we moved along and became a part of the procession throughout the town. Following the statues and the Priests; the Civil Dignitaries and a large contingent of Friars; following the San Giovanni Rotondo brass band, we melded with the faithful our candles lit, watching as our wax-paper cups burned to a char and fascinated by the devoutly sung hymns as we walked along immersed in the crowd, wandering amongst the people, but always within watchful sight of our beloved parents.
The next night, Mom and Dad walked us to the "Luna Park" carnival rides, past the vendors with the "bambole" (dolls) and "giocattoli" (toys of all sorts) displayed to attract immediate attention from all of the children! You could hear the "Mom can we have one, puleeeeeeeeeze" coming from the mouths of the all of the kids and regardless of which language, the begging and the sharp "No!" was universally understood! We were attracted also by the food vendors with candied almonds and cheeses and all of the traditional festival foods but what we really waited for was the very last night. All of us gathered on the terrace of our little "pensione" which were simply rooms in the original Casa San Giuseppe, the Convent of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, which was located at that time, down one of the side streets off of the main Via Cappuccini.
Along with Madre Vincenza, Suor Bernadetta and Suor Cesida we waited until dark, for the most brilliant fireworks display we had ever seen...actually the first fireworks display for most of us! We could feel the explosions reverberating inside us, as the loud noise caused us to bury our heads in Mom's lap or on Dad's shoulder on even in the laps of the dear Sisters who were like second mothers to us. Memories of these years are etched forever in our minds and hearts and now as adults we do our best to share with our children to maintain the tradition. We took our children to the "Festa di San Giovanni" in June of 2009 which coincided with the visit of Pope Benedict. Thankfully, not much has changed except maybe for the styles of dress...we in the 1970's wore dresses every evening and my brother his "Sunday pants" and our children in 2009, jeans and tees, but the memories...unforgettable!
No sooner will San Giovanni Rotondo recover from the Festa in June that there will be another in July! The 100th Anniversary of the arrival to the remote village of San Giovanni Rotondo, of the town's "best known citizen": Padre Pio!
Padre Pio's Superiors thought that a short stay in the Friary of Our Lady of Grace, breathing the fresh air atop Mount Gargano, would bode well for the health of the poor Friar before returning him once again to the Friary of St. Ann in Foggia where he had been assigned. So packed in a small donkey drawn cart, Padre Pio arrived in San Giovanni Rotondo, July 28, 1916 for a brief stay.
However, Our Lord had different designs on Padre Pio...it was from here that the co-salvific mission of Padre Pio was to become public and it was here, in the Our Lady of Grace Friary Chapel, that Our Blessed Lord came to open upon his body the visible wounds which would become Padre Pio's greatest humiliation and at the same time his "precious jewels"...
To be continued....stay tuned!
It was in the remote mountaintop village of San Giovanni Rotondo, that for over 52 years, Padre Pio would live in total obedience to the will of Almighty God, to the will of his Superiors and in humble obedience to the authority of Holy Mother Church, until his death early in the morning of September 23, 1968.
Countless souls, both living and deceased (the souls from Purgatory) visited that village, seeking consolation from the prayers that Padre Pio always so generously offered even to the extent of taking their suffering upon himself.
His great love for the souls entrusted to him was the impetus for the founding of the internationally renowned hospital, La Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza. Early in his mission, when surrounded by the sick who came to him, he never closed his eyes to them, nor did he counsel against going to doctors, because they were a great necessity! He insisted that the sick be cared for.
Having been sent to a world in turmoil and transition during the 20th Century was no mistake; Padre Pio is a constant: a constant reminder that science, as wonderful as it is, cannot explain everything (note the open wounds on the body of Padre Pio, bleeding a cup of blood everyday for 50 years and having been examined by scientists countless times, no explanation possible).
It was during the 20th Century that the world began its transition towards the devaluation of human life, taking away the dignity of the unborn and the elderly, fighting for abortion on demand and euthanasia. However, the Hospital of Padre Pio, which is much more than a hospital but also a world-class research facility, where diseases are being studied and ethically treated and those results going throughout the world to bring relief to the suffering far and wide.
The work of Padre Pio and his mission is more important than ever in these days. This article doesn't even begin to touch upon all that this great Saint achieved in his lifetime and what he continues to do for all who call upon him to this day! Padre Pio's own words before he left this world was a testimony to his continued presence and his legacy to devotees, "I will do more for you from Heaven than I could ever do on earth!" and his promise of great hope, "I will stand at the gates of Paradise and will not enter until the last of my Spiritual Children have entered".
No wonder there will be celebrating in San Giovanni Rotondo this July, to commemorate this great anniversary! The great legacy of Padre Pio is visible there and the great love and intercession of Padre Pio, is manifest everywhere!
Thank you, Dear Lord, for this great gift of Padre Pio in our lives!