In February 2016, as part of the Jubilee of Mercy celebrations and by special request of Pope Francis, the remains of St. Padre Pio were moved from San Giovanni Rotondo in Puglia, Southern Italy, to Rome for a weeklong exposition. It was the first time in 100 years that Padre Pio’s body left the convent, which he entered in 1916. He died exactly forty-eight years ago today, September 23, 1968.
According to Pio biographer Fr. Luciano Lotti, Cardinal Bergoglio (the future Pope Francis) has long had a great devotion to Padre Pio. For the Great Jubilee Year of the Third Millennium in 2000, Bergoglio asked, and some relics of Pio’s arrived in Buenos Aires.
Papa Bergoglio canonized Mother Teresa a few weeks ago, just two months before the conclusion of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. Francis’s choice of St. Pio and St. Teresa of Kolkata as jubilee’s patron saints is significant. St. Pio is an example for the missionaries of mercy and Mother Teresa is an example of mercy in action.
Mother Teresa and St. Pio seem never to have met, although there is evidence that Padre Pio had heard of her, her Missionaries of Charity, and their work in India. We know for sure that Mother Teresa visited the tomb of St. Pio in 1987. In commemoration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of that visit, a mosaic depicting Mother Teresa was unveiled in the left of the central nave of the sanctuary of St. Giovanni Rotondo. But what do St. Pio and Mother Teresa, the Jubilee Year patron saints, have in common?
They were both mystics, to start with. Pio, the highly celebrated Italian Capuchin, had an extraordinary gift of reading minds and hearts, of bilocating, levitating. and bearing the visible stigmata – five wounds of Christ – for almost fifty years. Moreover, like Mother Teresa, he went through the dark night of the soul: “dark clouds gathering in the heavens of my soul that not even a feeble ray of light can penetrate.” Coincidentally, Mother Teresa also underwent the dark night of the soul or the invisible stigmata for fifty years.
They both also experienced renunciation and sacrifice. Mother Teresa knew what God was asking of her and the sacrifices her call to serve in society’s slums required. She wrote: “the missionary must die daily. . . .she must be ready to pay the price He paid for souls, to walk in the way he walked in search for souls,” adding that the missionary must, like Christ, renounce herself: “If anyone wants to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mt. 16:24)
But there was redemption at the end of the dark tunnel for both saints. Suffering is indeed redemptive. Mother Teresa accepted darkness as part of her life’s journey and her intimate internalization of the cross, which she considered a gift. She endured all trials cheerfully because she considered cheerfulness a sign of a person who generously forgets self.
Similarly, Pio accepted pain, even the agonies caused by the stigmata. Asked if his stigmata hurt, he replied: “Do you think that the Lord gave them to me for a decoration?” And added: “The heavenly Father has not ceased to allow me to share in the sufferings of his Only- Begotten Son, even physically. These pains are so acute as to be absolutely indescribable and inconceivable.” Pio’s 50-year old stigmata only disappeared at his death in 1968.
A third commonality between Mother Teresa and St. Pio is a merciful life-long mission, a combination of profound contemplation and active charity. Mother Teresa’s sisters’ day is divided between contemplation and active service. Missionaries of Charity Rule 36 requires that sisters “make half an hour’s meditation, twice a day the examination of conscience, the full rosary, the litanies of Our Lady and Saints.” Mother Teresa’s and St. Pio’s contemplation and spiritual lives, however, also opened doors to concrete actions.
Pio, besides founding several prayer groups, was a much-sought-after confessor. Fr. Luciano Lotti describes Pio the confessor as “roughly benevolent.” He spent seventeen hours a day listening to confessions and reconciling people, changing their hearts and lives. But he still had the time and energy to help build the Home for the Relief of Suffering in 1956 – a hospital that provides free medical services to the poor. The hospital became a temple of prayer, contemplation. and research – all on a large scale, with 1000 beds, 26 departments, 50 clinical specialties, and 3000 employees.
By contrast, Mother Teresa converted “with a smile” and genuine tenderness. She became an icon of God’s tender mercy, radiating light and hope to the people she touched. She saw Jesus in the faces of the poor and the suffering she served and was capable of seeing good in all people. That tenderness, too, caught fire. Currently, 4,000 Missionaries of Charity serve actively in 697 houses spread in 131 countries worldwide.
St. Mother Teresa and St. Pio were mystics capable of reconnecting humanity to God’s love. Through their contemplative-active missions they generously “dispensed” divine mercy and love with their prayer and active service. Only a few years before her death Mother Teresa wrote: “Jesus wants me to tell you again how much is the love He has for each one of you – beyond all that you can imagine – He longs for you.” They were saints of suffering and saints of love.
On this anniversary of his death, St. Padre Pio and St. Mother Theresa, pray for us.