Padre Pio’s Friends From America, Shares Their Testimonies.

Padre Pio’s Friends From America, Shares Their Testimonies.

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Padre Pio’s Friends from the U.S.A. Ellie Hunt and Carmelina Maruca: Two Testimonies.

Padre Pio has been a part of Ellie Hunt’s family ever since she  can remember. Ellie’s father, James Rummo as well as her maternal and paternal grandparents lived in Pietrelcina. It was a small and close-knit farming town where everybody knew everybody else. Francesco Forgione (Padre Pio) would eventually become Pietrelcina’s most famous citizen, although no one ever imagined it at the time.

Ellie’s maternal grandmother, Anna Maria Scocco was the same age as Padre Pio and knew him as a child. Anna Maria’s family owned a farm in the countryside of Pietrelcina, an area called Piana Romana. Padre Pio’s family, the Forgiones, also had a small landholding in Piana Romana as well as a vineyard. As a youngster, Padre Pio tended the family’s sheep.

Anna Maria recalled that Padre Pio was very pious as a young boy and always carried a devotional book with him. He was shy by nature and also very quiet. Anna Maria once asked him why he was always reading books. Instead of answering the question, he asked Anna Maria why she didn’t attend school. She told him that it was because her father wanted her to stay home and learn how to cook, clean and sew. At the time, education was not mandatory in southern Italy.

Padre Pio’s health, which was never good, began to deteriorate after he moved to the Capuchin seminary in Morcone in order to study for the priesthood. Doctors were never able to successfully diagnose and treat the mysterious illnesses that continually wracked his body. The distressing symptoms of his ailments would come and go with no apparent reason. Because of his frail health, Padre Pio was forced to interrupt his studies and move back to the family home. 

For the better part of seven years, from 1909 until 1916, Padre Pio remained in Pietrelcina. He spent much of his time in prayer and solitude and did his best to regain his health. It was one of the few times of relative quiet and peace in his life. During this period, his prayer life grew in intensity. It is thought that the seven years he spent in his hometown were almost like an extended retreat, arranged by Divine Providence, to prepare him spiritually for the great mission that was just up ahead.

It was during the time of Padre Pio’s long convalescence in Pietrelcina that Ellie’s father, James came in contact with him. James’ grandmother, Saveria, would send him with fresh eggs to deliver to Padre Pio. The hope was that the eggs would build up his strength. Everyone in the community knew of his illness and hoped for his recovery. Even in his youth, the townspeople held him in the highest esteem.

It was very difficult to make a living in Pietrelcina and for that reason, Ellie’s father, grandparents, and other relatives eventually moved to New York. Once in New York, the men joined the “Pietrelcina Society,” which sent regular financial help to those who had stayed behind. 

Alfred, one of Ellie’s cousins, made yearly visits back to Pietrelcina all through the 1950’s. He noticed that St. Anne’s parish, where Padre Pio had been baptized, confirmed, and received his first Holy Communion, and later, where he celebrated Mass, was in a great state of disrepair. “Someday people from all over the world will be coming to our town,” Alfred said to his relatives in Pietrelcina.

“They will want to see Padre Pio’s birthplace and the parish of his youth. The church must be kept clean at all times. It must be swept and dusted daily. It cannot be neglected like this!” he said emphatically.

In the 1950’s, when Alfred spoke those words, Padre Pio was relatively unknown throughout the world. The tiny, impoverished town of Pietrelcina was even more unknown. It could barely be found on a map. Many of its residents had long since moved away. But Alfred was convinced that the saintly priest from Pietrelcina would one day become world-famous and that people would be interested in seeing his hometown. His words proved to be prophetic.

Gradually people from all parts of the world began to learn about Padre Pio. Today, the pilgrims who annually visit the town of Padre Pio’s birth and pray in the church of St. Anne, number in the thousands. The increase in visitors has been so dramatic that the town is hard-pressed to accommodate the crowds.

All through Ellie’s growing up years, she heard the family reminisce about Padre Pio but she was never very interested in the stories from the “old country.” All that changed however due to an incident that happened in 1960, when Ellie was thirty-one years old. That was the year that her grandfather, Jack Crafa became gravely ill. Ellie and her parents lived close to his home in Flushing, New York and during his illness, the family stayed constantly by his side. 

When Jack fell into a coma, everyone knew that his end was near. One day while Ellie and her parents were at her grandfather’s bedside, a stranger knocked on the door. It was a Capuchin monk dressed in a dark brown habit. Ellie was surprised to see that he was wearing sandals without any socks for it happened to be a particularly cold day and there was still snow on the ground from the last storm. The monk said he had come to pray for her grandfather.

Ellie was perplexed. There were not any Capuchin monks in residence at their parish in Flushing or in any other parish in the area for that matter. Ellie was also annoyed. The parish priest should have come to the house in her grandfather’s time of need rather than a complete stranger. But she was impressed by the kindness and compassion of the young religious.

The monk went in the bedroom and blessed Jack Crafa. He told the family to pray the Rosary while sitting at Jack’s side and to pray the Hail Mary close to his ear. He had the sense that Jack was still able to hear. After the monk said that, Ellie was surprised to find that when she took her grandfather’s hand in hers, she felt a very slight response from him, a very slight squeeze from his hand.

The young monk gave Ellie’s grandfather the Last Rites, and after blessing the family, he bid them goodbye. As he walked out the front door, Ellie’s father, James, observed that there was no car waiting for him outside. James watched him as he walked up the street until he disappeared in the darkness. It was that very night that Jack Crafa passed away. He had been in a coma for nine days.

After the monk left, James became pale and appeared quite shaken. Ellie’s mother Lucy asked him for the reason. “Don’t you know who that was?” James replied. “It was Padre Pio. He came in bilocation to give the Last Rites to your father. He looked exactly like I remember him when I used to deliver eggs to him in Pietrelcina.”

Ellie believed her father’s explanation and she was aware of Padre Pio’s gift of bilocation. Her grandfather, Jack Crafa had been one of Padre Pio’s spiritual sons from Pietrelcina. But Ellie was confused about one thing. The black and white photos she had seen of Padre Pio showed him as having very dark hair. This monk had sandy colored hair. Later, when Ellie read a biography of Padre Pio, the author described Padre Pio’s hair as a dark sandy color. It confirmed her own observation. Padre Pio had always said that the people of Pietrelcina held a very special place in his heart. 

Ellie’s mother had a cousin named Rose who was from Pietrelcina. Rose was very devoted to Padre Pio and she regularly sent packages to her aunt who lived in San Giovanni Rotondo. Rose heard that Padre Pio enjoyed American coffee and so she made sure that the packages always included coffee. Her aunt always took the coffee directly over to the monastery and asked the Capuchins to give it to Padre Pio.

For many years, Rose had longed to visit San Giovanni Rotondo and was finally able to make the trip. One afternoon, she was standing among a large crowd of people who were gathered outside the monastery waving to Padre Pio. He was standing at a window, waving a handkerchief in greeting to the crowd below. As he looked at the large gathering of people, he pointed out Rose to one of the Capuchins. The next thing she knew, one of the Capuchins approached her and told her that Padre Pio wanted to speak to her.

Rose was escorted inside the monastery and asked to wait. After awhile the Capuchin returned and apologized to Rose. He said that Padre Pio had intended to come down and personally thank her for the coffee she had been sending to him but unfortunately he was unable to do so.

In that large crowd of people, Padre Pio picked out one of his fellow citizens of Pietrelcina to give a special word of thanks to. He had never met Rose before nor had she ever met him. And yet he obviously recognized Rose and was aware of her thoughtfulness. His love for the people of Pietrelcina was always very evident. Padre Pio once said, “In my lifetime, I have made San Giovanni Rotondo known but after my death I will make Pietrelcina known.”

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In 1967, Carmelina Maruca and her two children made a trip to Italy to visit relatives. Antoinetta and Mario, Carmelina’s sister and brother-in-law, lived in Salerno where Mario had a medical practice. Carmelina had a very enjoyable visit with them. Before returning home to California, Carmelina and her children along with Antoinetta and Mario, decided to visit San Giovanni Rotondo to attend Padre Pio’s Mass.

When Carmelina and her family arrived at the monastery, they learned that Padre Pio was ill. They had to wait five days before he was once again able to celebrate Mass. Carmelina noticed the great devotion the pilgrims had for Padre Pio but somehow she felt differently. “Padre Pio is not a saint,” Carmelina said to herself. “He is a priest, yes, but nothing more than that.” She could not believe otherwise.

Carmelina and her family were able to attend Padre Pio’s Mass. After the Mass, they were told that Padre Pio would be giving a blessing when he came out of the sacristy. About fifty people knelt down outside the sacristy and waited to receive Padre Pio’s blessing.

Carmelina knelt down too but after a short time her knees began to hurt. “Why am I kneeling like this?” she said to herself. “This is not a holy person we are waiting to see. There are many Capuchins at this monastery and Padre Pio is just one among many. He should not be receiving so much attention. These pilgrims have a misguided devotion!”

Carmelina rose to a standing position to be more comfortable. A few moments later, when Padre Pio came out of the sacristy, Carmelina was the only person who was standing. All of the others were on their knees. Padre Pio placed his hand on each person’s shoulder in a blessing but when he came to Carmelina, there was no blessing, only a very severe look which made her feel extremely uneasy. She realized that Padre Pio knew the negative thoughts she had been thinking about him and she was deeply embarrassed. Carmelina’s daughter had noticed the frown on his face as he looked at her mother. “Mother,” she said. “I saw the look on Padre Pio’s face and I know that he is not happy with you. I am going to pray for you.”

That very brief encounter with Padre Pio made a deep impression on Carmelina and her attitude changed completely. The knowledge that he had read the dispositions of her heart, confirmed to her his authenticity. Her devotion to him has increased through the years.

Living in Salerno, Mario and Antoinetta were able to travel to San Giovanni Rotondo occasionally so that Mario could see Padre Pio and receive spiritual direction from him. Conversations with Padre Pio were always a source of great consolation to him. During one visit, Padre Pio said to Mario, “I see that there is suffering ahead for you, but with prayer, you will be all right. God will assist you.”

Not long after, cancer was discovered in Mario’s shoulder. Very extensive surgery was performed which included the amputation of Mario’s arm. He was no longer able to practice as a surgeon and Antoinetta had to seek employment to support the family.

Antoinetta passed away at the relatively early age of fifty-five years, leaving Mario a widower for many years. Remembering Padre Pio’s words, Mario turned to prayer and he received the strength he needed to fully surrender to God and to accept His will in his life.

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“When a man turns to Christ and seems to be getting on pretty well (in the sense that some of his bad habits are now corrected), he often feels that it would now be natural if things went fairly smoothly. When troubles come along – illnesses, money troubles, new kinds of temptation – he is disappointed. These things, he feels, might have been necessary to rouse him and make him repent in his bad old days, but why now? Because God is forcing him on, or up, to a higher level, putting him into situations where he will have to be very much braver, or more patient, or more loving, than he ever dreamed of being before. It seems to us all unnecessary, but that is because we have not yet had the slightest notion of the tremendous thing He means to make of us.” 

~C.S. Lewis.

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