“I have not had the immense grace of living in the times of Christ and of seeing Him in person, but, knowing Padre Pio, it is as if I have had that grace.”
By Elena Golia Paone
In 1961, I was 16 years old and I was going through a difficult time that is typical of that age. It was then that, yielding to my mother’s insistence, I accepted to go to San Giovanni Rotondo to meet Padre Pio and if possible, confess myself to him.
As far as I was concerned I was not curious or had any desire to meet him. I was completely indifferent, but I thought it right to please my mother who was very keen that I should meet him. And my first confession to Padre Pio was really a traumatic shock.
After I had got over the initial shock, which had paralyzed me a bit, so that I could not even speak, my voice returned and I was able to start my confession and punctually with a rising crescendo he rebuked me at each of my accusations, in a menacing tone up to the conclusive scolding: “Get up and go away.” I got up and went in front of him to kiss his hand, and that gesture raised me to another dimension and this happened each time I repeated this gesture.
But in my inmost self I was resentful: “Who does he think he is? What is he doing? I shall certainly never return!”. And I gave vent to my feelings by bursting into tears. Padre Pio who up to then had left me indifferent, began to assume for me more importance. I went home and my experience became a painful concern in which even my father participated. He was not a believer in the current sense of the word.
Five years went by. In the meantime I interrupted my high school studies to dedicate myself to voluntary work in the hospital of a religious order. Here in the depths of my apathy I saw a glimmer of light. I thought I could give some significance to my existence if I dedicated myself to assisting the suffering.
Having overcome the resistance of my family I landed at the “Home for the Relief of Suffering” to attend a course of Professional Nursing. My mother was the only one in the family who was very pleased.
“My daughter” she said “I would like to be your age to do what you are doing!” She approved of my choice of work and was enthusiastic about my nearness to Padre Pio. The students could, in fact, see him, assisting every now and then at his morning Mass. Often in the evening they could attend the service and Benediction in the shrine of “Our Lady of Grace.”
The meetings reserved for the student nurses coincided with the most important liturgical feasts. The Padre passed in their midst blessing them. And the students had the possibility of taking turns to confess to him. I could hardly wait for my turn. I had to take up my meeting with him which had begun five years before.
In this second confession, Padre Pio was less “tough,” but the final result did not change. My mother, from home, wanted to know how it went and I reassured her in a general way.
Two sudden deaths overtook my family. In the space of four months my paternal grandmother died and also my mother, still young, died unexpectedly.
My father, seeing himself alone asked me to come back. On being consulted, Padre Pio replied that he had a right to have me back at home. I obeyed. I sacrificed myself and leaving behind everything I had done to rearrange my life, I left San Giovanni Rotondo and went back to my native town to be near my father.
Nevertheless, despite all my good intentions, the weight of this situation was too heavy for me to sustain and having consulted doctors, my father himself re-accompanied me back to San Giovanni Rotondo at great personal sacrifice.
I was again admitted to the course of studies, but since it was difficult to catch up on the two months I had lost, I asked a nun to speak about it to Padre Pio. He sent me a reassuring message, saying: “It is clear she has no faith! She will pass.” But it was not just the Padre who backed me up. I well remember that the “Home for the Relief of Suffering” was like being in the family and I remember very well that the affection I received was truly great. Everyone was full of kindness to me, especially the nuns.
I used to say: “I have lost my mother, but I have found another forty who are here in the Home.” It was nearly Easter. The students went to the Friary to wish Padre Pio a happy Easter. I was there too!
Padre Pio walked through our midst. Looking at him my eyes filled with tears. I thought of the painful events during the last months and I asked myself: “What does Padre Pio want from me? I really think that he will now have pity on me!…” But this was not the case, at least that was the way I saw it!…
In fact, I went to him for confession for the third time, but even if Padre Pio treated me with great courtesy, the result of the confession remained the same as the preceding ones.
By now I was resigned; I would have gone back to that confessional at all costs, even to the last days of my life and putting up with whatever humiliation. Padre Pio had won me over and had convinced me completely!
But things went differently to what I had expected. In fact, one morning, I was at my fourth confession with Padre Pio and at the end Padre Pio gave me absolution. “He must have made a mistake” was my first thought, accompanied with great surprise and lots and lots of joy. Why had Padre Pio acted like this with me?
Even today I cannot reply to this question with precision. I could make some conjectures, but the complete truth is yet to be revealed. Certainly he must have had some good reasons and followed his methods which obtained good fruits.
When Padre Pio had refused me absolution, the other priests had no problems in absolving me. Padre Pio could see what was not allowed for others to see and according to him even thoughts could seriously injure the dignity of the human person. I found the work as a student nurse very light despite the hard work. All the students lived inside the college next to the “Home for the Relief of Suffering.”
The day began early since we attended daily Mass. We also said the rosary in the evenings and attended other religious ceremonies in the chapel of the hospital.
The training, at that time, consisted of working six hours a day in the wards. Three times a week we attended the lectures where the teachers gave lessons in theory. We memorized what we had been taught in our free time.
The day, therefore, was fully employed, which burdened me as I began to have health problems. In fact, as soon as I arrived in the “Home” to follow the courses I had to have my tonsils out. Then I was admitted to the hospital to work and during all the years I was there I had to take a medicine that exhausted me to cure rheumatic pains that had developed after the chronic tonsilitis.
I remember that my mother had been very worried about this and when she went to confession to Padre Pio she had manifested her fears. But raising his arms, he had exclaimed: “All is well, all is well!”
In fact, to the amazement of everyone, I managed to make it. Padre Pio was my surety, and my trust in him was such that my burden, although heavy, was made very much lighter.
I lived as in a dream and I seemed to move in an atmosphere that was above reality. Every sad event was as if softened by the presence of the Padre, on whom I unburdened my sufferings, as did the hospital patients and all those people who placed their trust in him.
Therefore, the sufferings were there, but it was as if they were not felt.
The fervour of the students for Padre Pio was growing so that it was necessary for someone to make reservations for those who wished to confess to him. Sister Assunta suggested me for the duty and from this I gained some benefits. In fact, it sometimes happened that a student, although booked, was overcome by fear and backed out at the last minute.
The nun would come to wake me up (this took place very early in the morning) and I looked in my list for the next student to replace the one who had backed out. If no one was ready to go, I ran with immense joy “winning” an extra confession. And why did I run so willingly? Because I was fascinated and attracted by the figure of Padre Pio. But he was not the aim of this attraction, but the possibility of uniting myself always more to Christ and to the grace of God.
This has always been very clear to me and I repeat what I have so many times affirmed: “I have not had the immense grace of living in the times of Christ and of seeing Him in person, but, knowing Padre Pio, it is as if I have had that grace.”
Yes, Padre Pio was like another Christ, and even if at that time he was regarded with suspicion by some people, I and many others received the singular grace of perceiving his charisma, and for this I cannot thank God sufficiently.
From an age point of view he was almost 60 years older than me but it was as if he had no age and I felt myself perfectly understood by Padre Pio, even though our conversations were very brief and concise.
One morning I asked him: “Padre, will you accept me as a spiritual daughter?” And he replied: “Behave yourself well; to the extent in which you behave, you will be my daughter.” The reply pleased me. I found it very demanding because I thought: “If I behave very well, I will be a great daughter of Padre Pio,” but the opposite could happen and I could have become a small daughter, or no daughter at all. All depended on me and the way I behaved. It is for this reason that I dare not define myself as a “spiritual daughter of Padre Pio.”
He has been a “great Father” but each one of us before defining ourselves his son, must make a deep examination of conscience and as far as I am concerned, “if and to what extent” I will have been daughter to such a great Father, I prefer to have it revealed one day through the love and mercy of God.
On another occasion I asked Padre Pio what road I should follow in the future, if to the religious state, or marriage and he replied: “Prepare yourself to form a holy family.” The following time I was more bold and I asked him: “Padre, will you see to making me meet someone I can marry?” He replied: “Now is not the moment.”
I can truly affirm that Padre Pio assured me his affection and took the place of my mother, who had died and of my real father, who was far away. One day the Principal of the course for Professional Nurses invited me to stay on at San Giovanni Rotondo to frequent the course for Ward Sisters. I consulted Padre Pio, saying: “Padre, the Principal has asked me to stay to follow the course for Ward Sister. What do you advise?” And he replied: “Eh, I say yes, my daughter.” I went away happy and remained another year close to Padre Pio, but an event supervened that I had not foreseen.
Early one morning, I was still in bed when I heard a loud hubbub that came from the square of the church of Our Lady of Grace! When I got up, I met the nurses who used to go to Padre Pio’s Mass and one of them said to me: “Padre Pio is dead!” I could not believe it, and greatly offended I replied that no one should joke about such things. It was probably my subconscious refusing to accept this that made me react in that way. It took me some time to realize that unfortunately those atrocious words were true.
At the news of Padre Pio’s death many people came to San Giovanni Rotondo to visit their beloved Padre. My brother came also and referred a message to me from my father who had said: “Now that Padre Pio is dead, there is no reason for you to stay. Come back home.”
I was about to agree but I thought for a while and replied: “The will of the people we love is respected even more after their death. I will stay here for another year because this is what Padre Pio wanted.
We prepared ourselves for the funeral. Four student nurses were invited by the mayor to join the funeral procession, I was one of those four. The heart-broken words of Professor Medi, or rather his love song, accompanied us along the way. Near the town hall the mayor, Doctor Sala, made a speech interrupted frequently by sobs he could not restrain. After having walked through the whole town we returned to the square in front of the church of Our Lady of Grace where a platform had been prepared where the priests who were to celebrate Mass took their places.
Padre Pio’s body was in a coffin with a glass lid, placed on a “Mercedes” and covered in red roses. I was there inside the enclosed zone at a very short distance from the coffin.
My affection for Padre Pio, as that of so many others, was so great that we felt as if we had been betrayed by him. He had gone unexpectedly, without warning and had left us “orphans.” Now we had to walk by ourselves with our own feet, making his teachings a precious treasure. Our journey would certainly be more tiring.
The Mass ended, I went close to the coffin, stretched out my arm and picked a few roses that surrounded it. Some other people did the same thing. I went towards the platform and tried to climb up. There were some policemen there who stopped me, saying it was not possible, but I exclaimed: “I only want to see the Padre for the last time.” Then the policemen shouted to the others who were climbing like me: “Make way, let them pass!…” And like this my wish was granted.
From the platform I saw Padre Pio for the last time, the coffin moved away towards the hospital, so that the sick could also say good-bye to him.
The body of Padre Pio spoke for itself. It was enough to look at him and it was impossible not to see that that body had contained the soul of a saint.
After the death of Padre Pio the acclamation of the people for Padre Pio increased progressively, reaching sensational levels, and perhaps unexpected for those who had known and frequented him.
I stayed on for another year at the “Home for the Relief of Suffering.” At the end of my studies I received two diplomas: one for Professional Nurse, which has the signature of “Padre Pio Capuccino,” Administrative President, and the other of “Director of Nursing Assistance.” As soon as I returned home, I met my present husband, a hospital doctor.
I worked for three years in the hospital, then I undertook another mission, that too very delicate. In fact I participated in a public concourse and was accepted on the teaching staff, first in the State Nursery School and then in the Elementary School. I gave birth to two daughters and I always struggle to make my family become holy, as Padre Pio wanted. In these thirty years my journey has become progressively more painful.
After the death of Padre Pio when I was still a student I heard a sermon preached by Padre Mariano in the church of Our Lady of Grace. He spoke about a Neapolitan priest, who was a friend of Padre Pio’s, Don Dolindo Ruotolo, still alive and he too had a reputation for sanctity. I wrote to Don Dolindo and at once received a long letter, in which, amongst other things he affirmed: “Sufferings are dear to me, they are the only homage I can offer to God in my misery.”
This is the message that I had always tried to convey to the sick when they asked themselves what was the reason for their sufferings. This is what I experienced myself little by little. The one who suffers physically or in spirit is a living altar, to whom one must bow one’s head.
Whoever manages to sanctify his sufferings, which is not easy, charges himself with a vitality which makes him great in the sight of God and worthy before those who are able to understand the “Truth” sealed in this great mystery of suffering. When I go back to San Giovanni Rotondo and I stop to pray at Padre Pio’s tomb, I am unable to hold back my emotion because when I contemplate my sufferings I realize that they enrich me and place me in God’s love and it all becomes more precious with the presence of Padre Pio whom one feels in that place even more strongly.
Sometimes I think of times past in the nursing college. In the “Home for the Relief of Suffering” visitors were always welcome. Sometimes, it was us students who accompanied them. I remember that after the death of Padre Pio, more than once I happened to guide groups of visitors and answering their questions, so I found myself giving testimony of what I had experienced living near Padre Pio.
Without realizing it, we were already beginning to tell the “Story of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina.”
© Voice of Padre Pio