The Secret World of Saints

The journey to canonization, the Catholic Church’s most mysterious tradition, complete with stigmata, self-mortification, and, of course, miracles.

  1. Chapter 1: Stigmata

    The blood appeared on his corpus one morning in 1918, while he was praying in the choir loft. “Suddenly I was overtaken by a powerful trembling,” the Roman Catholic friar Padre Pio would confess years later, in his native Italian. “I saw our Lord in the posture of someone who is on a cross. … I heard this voice: ‘I unite you with my Passion.’ Once the vision disappeared, I came to, I returned to my senses, and I saw these signs here, which were dripping with blood.” …

    The Christlike gashes in Padre Pio’s hands, feet, and torso would remain there right up until his death, at age eighty-one, in 1968, at his hilltop friary in tiny San Giovanni Rotondo, in southern Italy. Pio suffered. He bled every day. He slept but two hours a night. And yet he retained a dewy aura. “A fragrance followed the Capuchin friar,” writes Catholic journalist Vittorio Messori in his latest book, Padre Pio Under Investigation. “Those open sores, those wounds that normally should emanate the foul smell of coagulated blood, are instead accompanied by a pleasant and appealing scent of flowers.”

    A slight and hunched pale-skinned mystic of peasant stock, Padre Pio also claimed to be capable of bilocation—that is, of being in two places at once. When he thought of the Lord, he said, his body temperature sometimes rose to 118 degrees Fahrenheit, so he felt as though he were inside a furnace. He could supposedly raise bodies from the dead. In the confessional, reports one Catholic website, “He had the ability...

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