On December 20, 2001, a host of Capuchin friars of Santa Maria delle Grazie -- the friary where Padre Pio lived for more than fifty years -- stood in the Clementina Hall of the Vatican, in the presence of Pope John Paul II. Padre Pio was not yet canonized and his beloved confreres were there.for the reading of the decree of the Congregation of the Causes of Saints,
Standing in the hall with the others was Padre Di Flumeri, Vice-Postulator for the Cause of Canonization of Padre Pio. He wrote:
"The Superior, Father Giammaria, had with him the statue of the Child Jesus that Blessed Padre Pio carried in procession during Midnight Mass. At the sight of this tender scene, our hearts melted and all formality disappeared. Many drew near to kiss the Child Jesus...'Padre, are you giving him to the Pope?' some of the persons present asked the Superior, who replied imperturbably: 'No, I have brought him to be kissed by the Pope. Then I must take him back to San Giovanni Rotondo, because it's a very important relic, being the Child Jesus of Padre Pio.' With shaking hands, the Pope touched the small feet of the Child; then he drew the basket in which the Child was reclining closer to him and repeatedly kissed that holy statue."
What is "that holy statue" that brought so much feeling to everyone who saw it?
It is the very statue Padre Pio carried in his adoring arms to the Crib near the altar during his many Christmas Midnight Masses. But in moments of incredible reality during those legendary Masses, it seemed to become the living Infant Jesus. Here, again, are Padre Di Flumeri's words, taken from the same excerpt in Padre Pio's Christmases, Chapter 5,The Certainty of the Babe.
"The spiritual light surrounding the Padre, his more than usually fervent prayers and his inexpressible spiritual joy, took us all aback.... [He] was unable to contain his joy over the birth of the Divine Child intimately united to him in the depth of his soul....The little statue of the Child Jesus was placed in its stand and incensed. Then began the singing of the Te Deum and the long and mysterious procession from the choir to the church along the corridors and through the cloister of the friary...That procession seemed to me like all humanity that has always gone to meet Jesus, who comes to us. Passing through the happy and noisy crowd that flanked us on either side, I noticed all eyes were turned to the image of the Divine Child Jesus in the arms of the stigmatized priest. And with their hands they stretched out to touch Him, the soft hands of innocent little children, the gentle hands of devout women and the hands of laborers hardened from work in the fields. All wanted to see and touch the One through whom all was fulfilled..."(The Voice of Padre Pio, No. 2, 2002, cited in Padre Pio's Christmases, Chapter 5)
The sense, the perception, the feeling, was that the Infant Jesus was alive during that split moment when everyone was taken aback. Anyone who has read a book about Padre Pio knows he lived in a world of the supernatural. Everyone knew or had glimpses of his mystical gifts -- his bilocations, his reading of hearts, his interceding and obtaining miracles.He saw Our Lady many times, indeed perhaps always. He saw his Guardian Angel as a companion in his youth and thereafter, perhaps constantly. He saw souls from purgatory who came by to thank him for his prayers. He even saw--and physically fought--demons. And he saw Jesus.
But there is nothing more dramatic than the two startling apparitions witnessed by credible people who actually saw Padre Pio holding the living Infant Jesus. One event was on a bitterly cold Christmas eve in 1922. One of Padre Pio's spiritual daughters, Lucia Iadanza, from Pietrelcina, his hometown, had come all the way to San Giovanni Rotondo for his Midnight Mass. She and three other women waited by a brazier in the sacristy to keep warm until the Mass would begin. The three women dozed off, but Lucia remained awake praying the Rosary. In the quiet waiting, she saw Padre Pio coming down the inner stairway of the sacristy and stopping near the window.
"All of a sudden in a halo of light the Child Jesus appeared and stayed in the arms of Padre Pio, whose face became radiant. The vision ended and only then did Padre Pio notice Lucia looking at him, astonished! He went up to her and asked: 'Lucia, what did you see?' Lucia replied 'Padre I saw everything.' Then Padre Pio warned her severely: 'Don't say a word to anyone or I will wring your neck like a chicken!'" (The Voice of Padre Pio, No. 4, 1989, p.14; Padre Di Flumeri: The Apparitions of the Child Jesus to Padre Pio: cited in Padre Pio's Christmases, Chapter 7)
The other event we know about was witnessed by Padre Raffaele Sant'Elia a Pianisi, who was not yet a priest. The First World War had just ended. He had been dismissed after eight years of military life and had yet to complete his Theology. For four days in September, 1919, he stayed at Padre Pio's friary. "Padre Pio welcomed me with great fraternal cordiality. After so many years of war and suffering, he encouraged me and promised me his spiritual assistance." Padre Raffaele's unpublished manuscript relates:
"I was sleeping in my tiny cell, almost in front of cell number five, which belonged to Padre Pio. During the night, between the 19th and 20th I could not sleep. I do not know why...perhaps it was because of the heat....Around midnight, I got up from bed. I felt almost frightened. The hall was dark, broken only by the flickering light of a kerosene lamp. While I was in the doorway about to go out, Padre Pio passed by all radiant, with the Child Jesus in his arms, walking slowly and praying. He passed in front of me, all radiant with light and he did not notice me. Only some years later, I came to know that the 20th of September was the first anniversary of his stigmata."
Padre Raffaele went on to live with Padre Pio at the friary in San Giovanni Rotondo for more than forty years, and was guardian of the friary from 1928 to 1941.
There is one other testimony about Padre Pio's apparitions of the Infant Jesus. It took place sometime in November in 1911 in the friary at Venafro. Padre Pio had been ordained a priest the year before and was assigned to the friary. Padre Agostino, his spiritual director, brought him Communion in bed one morning, when Pio was sick, and found him in ecstasy.This was apparently not too surprising a thing for Agostino, or even some of the other friars, for young Padre Pio had already evinced his mysticism. Quite a joyful conversation was going between the Padre and, as Padre Agostino learned, the Child Jesus. As he wrote in his diary:
"During this ecstasy, Jesus appears to him as a small child .. then Padre Pio looks more carefully and notices the wounds.This apparition was quite unusual and, as far as I know, unique in the whole of Christian hagiography. The child Jesus, in fact, appeared with his wounds."
Padre Agostino also noted that he heard Padre Pio saying to the Infant Jesus: "My Jesus, my Jesus, why are you so small...but tell me...come close to me...Tell me, do you know how to speak?"
"Why are you so small...Come close to me..."
Padre Di Flumeri stresses two things about this vision. One is the familiarity with which Padre Pio talks and relates to Jesus, "undoubtedly a sign of the intimacy that had commenced between Padre Pio and the heavenly personages." The other is the crucifixion wounds, which Padre Di Flumeri states "is an insight into his thoughts on the mystery of Christmas. For him the Child Jesus should be seen in the light of Jesus Crucified, and the feast of Christmas should be placed in strict relationship to that of Easter."
These apparitions of the Child Jesus to Padre Pio present the possibility, if you can imagine it, that durng a split moment in the Midnight Mass a supernatural reality burst in the light wth undoubted splendor, the Infant Jesus he was holding was alive before the radiant Padre Pio and the townspeople. Voices murmured, grew excited, hands reached out for the Child, as they would anyway, but now with more adoration, reality and need; He was the Child Jesus of Padre Pio and even the friars, even our scholarly Padre Di Flumeri, all fell under the light and joy that "took us all aback."
Shakespeare said it: " There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."