Padre Pio, also known as Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, was a friar, priest, stigmatist, and mystic, now venerated as a saint of the Catholic Church. Padre Pio, who was born 130 years ago, became famous for exhibiting stigmata for most of his life, thereby generating much interest and controversy. He was both beatified (1999) and canonized (2002) by Pope John Paul ll, writes RAY CLEERE.

Pietrelcina is in mountain country towards the South of Italy. Francesco Forgoine was born there into an isolated community of about 5,000 people 130 years ago on Wednesday, May 25, 1887, at 5pm in the evening, the time when the church bells range to call the faithful to honour the Blessed Virgin Mary in her month.

The family was poor and hard-working. But they were a prayerful family. They attended morning Mass regularly and always prayed the evening family Rossary. His mother was especially devoted to Our Lady of Mount Carmel and fasted three days a week.

Francesco was the second of six children and they were all formed in a truly spiritual atmosphere. His school essays showed a marked understanding of prayer and penance for the Holy Souls.

At 5 years of age he talked about his desire to become a priest. It was not surprising that at 9 years of age he was found sleeping on the floor with a stone for a pillow. Saintly Capuchins did that at the time.

Schools were rare then. There were only five church schools in the diocese and the population was 70% illiterate. Private schools cost money. His father went to America and sent a monthly contribution.

He was a good and happy man and he returned home “full of joy and poorer than ever.” Francesco did well at school. His first teacher was a married ex-priest but eventually Francesco could learn no more from him. He ministered to him on his deathbed. Francesco also did well in his second school and he qualified for the Novitiate.

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