No matter how good, no one gets a pass. Not even a saint.
The founder of the Catholic University of Milan — a priest and physician — described this saint as “an ignorant and self-mutilating psychopath who exploited people’s credulity.”
But the people loved him. And when Pope St. John Paul II canonized Padre Pio in 2002, over 300,000 came to witness it.
St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina was a Capuchin priest, mystic, counselor, healer and confessor, perhaps the most popular saint of the 20th century and well into the 21st. Born in southern Italy in 1887, he lived until 1968.
He caught intense secular attention for the stigmata — the wounds of Christ crucified — that he first began to experience while hearing confessions in 1918. The marks would last with him for the rest of his life.
Our Sunday Visitor has just released the revised “Padre Pio, The True Story” by C. Bernard Ruffin (OSV, $24.95). Originally published in 1982, this is the newest revised edition of the best popular biography available in English on Padre Pio.
Interesting sidebar is that “Padre Pio, The True Story” is written by a Lutheran minister. C. Bernard Ruffin is pastor of the Lutheran Church of the Holy Comforter in Washington, D.C. He graduated from Bowdoin College and holds a Masters of Divinity from Yale.
Padre Pio was loved because he was hard not to love. He downplayed the miraculous in his life — he wore mittens and coverings on his hands and feet as the stigmata embarrassed him — and the spirituality he taught was simple and kind. He’s quoted for saying, “Pray, hope and don’t worry.”
A favorite story from Ruffin’s book: An Italian-American journalist entered the confessional, and before she could begin, Padre Pio announced, “I will do the talking.” He then began to list her sins individually, pausing after each one so she could acknowledge them with a brief, “Si, Padre.”
In the middle of this unique confession, he stopped to give her counseling that she so needed. He then offered absolution and turned to the next person. The confession took less than two minutes.
As I was reviewing Ruffin’s revised edition, I got the news that Juan Romero had died of a heart attack. It reminded me again that no one gets a pass. Even if it is self-inflicted.
This past June was the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. As I wrote in June, Juan Romero was a 17-year-old immigrant busboy from Mexico working at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Romero had shaken hands with Kennedy, who had just won the Democratic California presidential primary.
Shots were fired. Kennedy was hit. Romero knelt beside him, cradling his head.
“I had a rosary in my shirt pocket, and I wrapped it around his right hand.”
Bobby died the next day. A shot of Kennedy, Romero and that rosary became one of the most iconic photographs in U.S. political history.
Romero was a quiet hero. But he didn’t see it that way. He convinced himself that if Kennedy hadn’t stopped to shake his hand, he would never have been shot.
Romero went on with his life, carrying his guilt with him. He settled in San Jose, California, in the mid-1970s, married and had three daughters and two sons. He worked paving roads and driveways.
The good news is that in the last years of his life, the guilt went away. Friends were finally able to show him that he was there not to put Kennedy in harm’s way, but to give him final comfort. To give him a rosary.
“Pray, hope and don’t worry.”
May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace.
Robert P. Lockwood writes from Indiana.