“Never in my life have I suffered so,” said Padre Pio. He could only walk with help. He slept only a few minutes at a time because his asthma and bronchitis kept him coughing. The priest assigned to be his companion heard him saying over and over at night, “My Jesus, my mother Mary, I offer up to you the groaning of my poor soul.” He would say during the day “Jesus, call me” and “I can’t carry on anymore.” He asked the superior, “Give me the obedience to die.”
Yet for a long time he still said Mass daily and heard confessions, for a while hearing fifty a day. He joined in, or was pushed into, the life of his friary, including an international convention of prayer group and events celebrating his life, with the crowds cheering from the square “Viva Padre Pio!” He was a celebrity and people expected to see him, if only giving them a blessing from his window.
As he got worse, he asked the Lord to come and take him. A friend asked “if this is the last station of our way of the Cross.” It is, said Padre Pio. “But remember that it’s the longest, most painful and torturous.” He also told her, “I’m preparing myself for the great passage” and “We’re leaving the earth and heading toward Heaven.”
His stigmata slowly disappeared. A friar who was close to him explained, “The ministry was finished, so the signs were finished.”
Closer to Death
As Padre Pio got closer to death, “he seemed to doubt he was in a state of grace,” a biographer writes. He said to one of his fellow friars, “I am the greatest sinner on earth,” and even told one, “I’m afraid to meet Christ. I haven’t corresponded to his love and to his infinite graces.” He also seemed to be under demonic attack.
Yet he retained his sense of humor. When a priest wished him another fifty years, he said, “What harm have I ever done you?”
On his last night, Padre Pio refused pain-killers and as he got closer to death told the priest with him not to get the doctor. “I belong more to the other world than to this one,” he told his old friend Padre Raffaele. “Pray to the Lord for me to die.” He told another, Padre Pellegrino, “Son, if the Lord alls me tonight, ask all my brothers to forgive me for all the trouble that I’ve caused them, and ask all our fellow guests and my spiritual children to say a prayer for my soul.” He’d already predicted that Padre Pellegrino would say Mass for him in the morning.
Early in the morning, he got up briefly and then collapsed back into a chair, unable to walk. “I see two mothers,” he said. His lips were turning blue. Padre Pelligrino went to get the doctor. The saint’s last words were the simple prayer, “Jesus . . . Mary . . . Jesus . . . Mary,” repeated over and over. The doctors tried to revive him, but he slipped away. One of his doctors called “the clinical signs” of his death, “the most peaceful and sweet I have ever seen.”
St. Pio’s Glory of the Cross
It is “precisely, the ‘glory of the Cross’ that shines above all in Padre Pio,” St. John Paul II said in his homily at Pio’s canonization on 16 June 2002. “Throughout his life, he always sought greater conformity with the Crucified. . . . His holiness cannot be understood without this constant reference to the Cross.” The pope continued:
In God’s plan, the Cross constitutes the true instrument of salvation for the whole of humanity and the way clearly offered by the Lord to those who wish to follow him (cf. Mk 16,24). The Holy Franciscan of the Gargano understood this well, when on the Feast of the Assumption in 1914, he wrote: “In order to succeed in reaching our ultimate end we must follow the divine Head, who does not wish to lead the chosen soul on any way other than the one he followed; by that, I say, of abnegation and the Cross.”
The story is taken from C. Bernard Ruffin’s Padre Pio: The True Story (third, expanded edition). St. John Paul II’s words at his canonization can be found here. St. Pio’s “Five Insights on Death and Dying” an be found here. For more stories of the saints’ deaths, go here.