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Padre Pio is one of the world's most beloved holy figures, more popular in Italy than the Virgin Mary and even Jesus. His tomb is the most visited Catholic shrine anywhere, drawing more devotees than Lourdes. His miraculous feats included the ability to fly and to be present in two places at once; an apparition of Padre Pio in midair prevented Allied warplanes from dropping bombs on his hometown. Most notable of all were his stigmata, which provoke heated controversy to this day. Were they truly God-given? A psychosomatic response to extreme devotion? Or, perhaps, the self-inflicted wounds of a charlatan?
Sergio Luzzatto offers a pioneering investigation of this remarkable man and his followers. Neither a worshipful hagiography nor a sensationalist exposé, Padre Pio is a nuanced examination of the persistence of mysticism in contemporary society and a striking analysis of the links between Catholicism and twentieth-century politics. Granted unprecedented access to the Vatican archives, Luzzatto has also unearthed a letter from Padre Pio himself in which the monk asks for a secret delivery of carbolic acid—a discovery which helps explain why two successive popes regarded Padre Pio as a fraud, until pressure from Pio-worshipping pilgrims forced the Vatican to change its views.
In this, the first historical appraisal and the figure and his profoundly original life, Luzzatto explores what it means to be a saint in our time.
"Sergio Luzzatto has written a fascinating study of the origin and development of the cult of Padre Pio, complete with hitherto unknown, bizarre stories of shady deals, con men, Fascists, and German collaborators as well as mystics and true believers. All this is set against a sweeping overview of twentieth-century history at its most dramatic. A masterful and intriguing achievement."—Susan Zuccotti, author of Under His Very Windows: The Vatican and the Holocaust in Italy
"Sergio Luzzatto, the virtuoso Italian historian, here turns to Padre Pio, the stigmata-suffering Capuchin monk from the boot of Italy. How to account for his immense cult? The crowds that worshipped him as a living saint? The ubiquity of his image, on display everywhere—in homes and sheds, ships and trucks—in so many cultures? Luzzatto's approach is agile and panoramic, embracing powerful Church interests, cunning commercial instincts, the awful twentieth-century wars, and the holy man's own highly manipulated religious sensibility. Concrete, empathetic, and exquisitely translated, Luzzatto's work on 'sainthood Italian style' highlights the perfect normality of outlandish religiosity in the secular West."—Victoria de Grazia, author of Irresistible Empire: America's Advance through Twentieth-Century Europe
Prologue: September 20, 1918
For a Capuchin friar hidden away in the half-empty San Giovanni Rotondo monastery on the remote Gargano Peninsula in southern Italy, September 20, 1918, was a fateful day. Around nine that morning, while Padre Pio of Pietrelcina was praying before a crucifix in the monastery chapel, "a mysterious personage" materialized before him, a figure bleeding from his hands, his feet, and his side. Alarmed, the thirty-one-year-old priest begged for God's assistance. The figure disappeared immediately, but Padre Pio's alarm only grew when he saw that Jesus's stigmata