Padre Pio was born Francesco Forgione in southern Italy on May 25, 1887. His parents were peasant farmers. At the age of five, he told his family he wanted to dedicate his life to serving God. As a child, Francesco was very ill. Despite his poor health, he studied diligently and was accepted into the novitiate of the Capuchin friars where he took on the name "Pio" in honor of Pope Pius I. He became a priest in 1910.
Throughout his life Padre Pio had heavenly visions —not only of his guardian angel, but also of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. As a child, he thought everyone had these experiences. He often advised his followers to remember their guardian angels. "Develop the beautiful habit of always thinking of him; that near us is a celestial spirit who from cradle to tomb does not leave us for an instant; guides and protects us as a friend, a brother....Oh, if all men could understand this great gift of God."
Pray, Hope and Don't Worry
In time, Padre Pio became known worldwide for his piety and charity. To the many that came to him seeking help, he advised, "Pray, hope and don't worry."
For the majority of Padre Pio's life, he experienced the stigmata, the nail wounds of Christ, a phenomenon that attracted much interest and controversy. At first, the Vatican and the Church became very concerned about the attention he received and limited his public interaction. However, following an investigation, the Church concluded his condition was not faked and allowed Padre Pio to preach publicly.
Over the years, Padre Pio wrote thousands of letters giving spiritual wisdom, such as: "Prayer is the best weapon we have; it is a key that opens God’s heart," and "My Jesus, love is what sustains me." Throughout his life, Padre Pio suffered many illnesses and inspired others to turn to develop a deeper relationship with God through their suffering. His empathy and compassion led him to a open a world-class hospital to serve the poor at San Giovanni Rotondo named Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza or "Home to Relieve Suffering."
Padre Pio died on September 23, 1968 at the age of 81. His funeral was attended by over 100,000 people. In 2002, Padre Pio was canonized by Pope John Paul II. St. Pio's shrine is located in San Giovanni Rotondo, where he lived and is buried, and draws over 8 million visitors each year.