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Padre Pio: The Path to Sainthood

Aired June 16, 2002 - 09:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is a CNN special report.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Christiane Amanpour in London. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. In the U.S., we're preempting RELIABLE SOURCES to bring you this special report, "Padre Pio: The Path to Sainthood."

This is a time of historic turbulence in the Catholic church. A massive sex-abuse scandal involving priests, bishops, and archbishops in the United States and in some other parts of the world is rocking the church to its very foundation.

But as the faithful face this profound shock to their spiritual beliefs, today perhaps some reassurance at the Vatican where the pope has performed a rare canonization ceremony. One of the most popular figures in the history of the 20th-century church has been made a saint.

For the next half an hour, we'll look at the extraordinary life of Padre Pio, a mystic monk who is said to have borne the stigmata, the bleeding wounds of Jesus Christ after the crucifixion. We'll tell you about the rigorous process it took to become the church's newest saint.

But, first, we go to Rome and CNN's Alessio Vinci, who watched as hundreds of thousands of people poured into Vatican Square for this event -- Alessio.


I can tell you an incredible day here in St. Peter's Square and around us hundreds of thousands of people. Police estimate as many as 300,000 people who came from all over Italy with special buses -- 4,000 buses, some 50 special trains, and, of course, many people reaching St. Peter's Square and the areas around it by -- with their own means.

The proceedings of the beatification of Pope John Paul -- led by Pope John Paul II broadcast on television around the world. but also on nine giant television screens throughout St. Peter's Square and around it to allow those people who did not make it all the way to St. Peter's Square -- only about 50,000 to 100,000 thousand people were allowed in. All the others had to remain outside. Padre Pio was a man who had dedicated most of his life to prayer and the devotion of Jesus Christ, a man who, like people here like to say, suffered for the good of other people. But, to his followers, Padre Pio was just more than a simple friar, he was a man capable of performing miracles, a man who was healing the sick people, a man with a gift of being seen in more than one place at the same time.

As you said, perhaps the aspect that made him one of the most controversial figures of the entire Catholic church was the fact that he bore the stigmata, the wounds of Jesus Christ -- the biblical wounds of Jesus Christ, and, to his followers, when those stigmata appeared in the hands of this man, they really believed he was somebody special.

And when he was alive, hundreds of thousands of people flocked to his monastery in Southeastern Italy to be confessed, to be blessed by him. It is believed that Padre Pio has performed at least 1.2-million confessions throughout his 50-year priest life.

So an incredible amount of people and the -- most of the people today in the square really braving the heat, but certainly united by this tremendous faith that they have in the man today Pope John Paul II has elevated to saint -- Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Alessio, we read that Padre Pio's face even sold magazines where perhaps celebrities would sometimes be on the cover. What do you think it is in a country that, in any event, is very Catholic -- what do you think it is that makes Padre Pio so special?

VINCI: Well, you know, I think that a lot of the people really believe in this faith -- in this tremendous faith he had in Jesus Christ. This was a man who struggled against the devil every day. The people today -- when we ask the very same question, they say, you know, he was a very modern man for the Catholic church.

Indeed, the fact that he was so modern that, he was perhaps even so ahead of his time gave him a lot of troubles. The Vatican for many, many years did not believe him. They actually believed that he was producing the stigmata, the wounds in his hands on purpose by pouring acid.

So he was a victim at the same time as being somebody who really could listen to the people. He was a very kind man, very rough and very tough with the people who really went to his confessions, but, nevertheless, a man that could cover a lot of ground for a lot of normal people, and, therefore, he -- really, really made him a very special person.

And indeed today, he has several Web sites on his name, radio and television station in his place where he's buried in San Giovanni Rotondo, trinkets with his image. Watches, badges, books are -- all of these are on sale today.

He's really a man who is believed to be one of the most powerful and controversial figures in the Catholic church but also one of the most respected ones -- Christiane. AMANPOUR: Alessio, thank you very much.

Pope John Paul II met Padre Pio and is said to have had a very special devotion for him. But it wasn't always that way. The church was deeply wary of the monk, skeptical about his wounds, his effect on people, and deeply distrustful of what the church considered a cultic personality growing up around him. Decades before the Vatican deemed him worthy of sainthood, they even bugged his confessional to see if he was a fake.

But the Vatican eventually did start of the process of canonization, and Padre Pio was beatified in 1999, which is when we started reporting this remarkable path to sainthood.


(voice-over): Thousands of people journey every day to a remote mountain village 200 miles southeast of Rome. In all, seven-million people a year fill the streets and visit the 15th-century Franciscan church in San Giovanni Rotondo.

REV. JOSEPH PIUS MARTIN, CAPUCHIN PRIEST: There are days you can't get into the church.

AMANPOUR: Inside the church, the mood is somber, as crowds march through ancient hallways to see a dark tomb, a bloody crucifix, a bare room. So many come that a cottage industry has grown up, the religious souvenir trade.

Nearly all the activity in this religious boom town can be traced to one man, whose likeness is virtually everywhere, Padre Pio, a man millions believe to be a modern-day saint.

MARTIN: I saw the hands and the side. I never saw the feet.

AMANPOUR: Father Joseph Martin came to San Giovanni 35 years ago. The Brooklyn native wanted to meet the mysterious priest rumored to have the wounds of Christ. He ended up as Padre Pio's personal caretaker.

MARTIN: The wound was right here, but you couldn't really see it very well because of the blood and the serum having formed these scabs. It's described by the doctors sort of like about a thumbnail size, right there, right through the hole in the hand.

AMANPOUR: Incredible as it may sound, to the monks who lived with Padre Pio and to his devoted followers, the explanation is simple.

MARTIN: The explanation is religious. It's too strong because it's -- it's the crucified savior still hanging on the cross and still saying "I thirst."

AMANPOUR (on camera): What explains it? What is it about Padre Pio?


AMANPOUR: No. But about this man particularly.

SARNO: It's faith. But it's what Padre Pio -- his message. It's God who is giving a message to the world through Padre Pio. A mystery.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Monsignor Robert Sarno is the only American member of a little-known office in the Vatican called the Congregations for the Causes of Saints. He and his colleagues study the lives and the miracles of people who've been nominated for sainthood.

(on camera): This is way before Padre Pio's time, right?

SARNO: From 1588 when this congregation was established.

AMANPOUR: That's what -- that's nearly 400 years ago.

SARNO: In 1592, this document was written.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): In all of these ancient texts, there aren't many investigations as unusual as the case that's just been debated by the congregation, the case of the church's first and only bleeding priest.

(on camera): So have you decided that these were caused other than being self-inflicted?

SARNO: During the process of canonization, that is never even considered.

AMANPOUR: And yet it was a big part of why he had so many followers.

SARNO: It might have been what you might call in English a drawing card.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Padre Pio was born Francesco Forgione in 1887. At the age of 15, he joined the Capuchin Order of the Catholic church and soon developed a reputation as a devout monk who prayed so fervently that often he went into religious trances.

He was sent to San Giovanni in 1916, and, two years later, according to legend, he received the wounds of Christ while praying in front of this crucifix.

Padre Gerardo Diflumeri, a fellow friar, has been charged by the Vatican with gathering all relevant information about Padre Pio's life.

REV. GERARDO DIFLUMERI, CAPUCHIN PRIEST: While praying, he saw the crucifix in front of him transform itself into a mysterious character, and from the hands, feet, and ribs of the crucifix came five rays that pierced his hands, feet, and side. AMANPOUR: As the story goes, Padre Pio was embarrassed by the wounds and tried to hide them from his superior, but his superior soon noticed. Church officials brought in a series of doctors to evaluate the wounds, known as the stigmata.

DIFLUMERI: Padre Pio was checked in 1919 by three doctors in the months of May, July, and October. All of them described the stigmata because they were objectively a fact.

MARTIN: The first one who -- he was a professor of medicine, Lord rest him, and he's the one who medicated the hands. You know, he was going to heal Padre Pio with bandages and seals on the bandages, and they just kept getting bigger and bleeding more.

The second man came in and stuck his fingers through the holes in the hand.

AMANPOUR: The third doctor was dubious. He thought Padre Pio may have caused the wounds himself through the power of suggestion.

For the next 49 years, there were no more medical examinations of the stigmata. Padre Pio tried to keep the wounds covered, but people saw his bloody hands every day during mass when he removed his gloves to give communion.

And as his legend grew, so did the litany of his supposed supernatural power -- the gift of healing, the ability to be in two places at the same time, sweet aromas announcing his presence, even the power of levitation. To Catholics, these are the hallmarks of sainthood.

(on camera): But the Vatican didn't always consider Padre Pio such a saint. Different popes launched a series of investigations, after he was accused of fostering a cult of celebrity and sleeping with women in his parish. At one point, Padre Pio was even secretly tape recorded by members of his own order.

Why was the church so suspicious of him back then?

SARNO: We live in a human world. There are people who will question the best of people, their motives, their reasons for acting. Everything is investigated by the church.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): The Capuchin friars say the allegations about women came from parishioners who were jealous, jealous because Padre Pio, they say, spent more time ministering to some members of the church than to others.

DIFLUMERI: Some very jealous women and envious men slandered Padre Pio, but he was completely innocent. I did a whole study on this, and the guilty were those women and men, not Padre Pio.

AMANPOUR (on camera): So, basically, the conclusion is that he was probably falsely accused back then?

SARNO: It's not even considered. What is considered is whether he lived a life of heroic virtue.

AMANPOUR: You're not answering my question, Monsignor.

SARNO: Yes, I am because, you see, it's not as if there is an inquisition that goes down and says, "Now let's see. You are being accused of this. Now we'll see if you're guilty, and we'll make a final pronouncement and judgment on you."

AMANPOUR (voice-over): But that's exactly what happened in 1931 when the Vatican put Padre Pio under virtual house arrest for two years. It didn't like the cult of celebrity that was growing up around him. Fistfights were breaking out before Padre Pio's masses, followers were snipping off bits of his clothing for souvenirs, and bandages dipped in sheep's blood were being sold as authentic relics.

MARTIN: Because of all the confusion around him, the Vatican wanted to investigate, and they were very severe. They enclosed him -- or "segregated," I think, might be the word, that he had to say mass in the interior chapel of the friary for two years, could not go into the church, could not be with the faithful, couldn't even take a stroll in the church square.

AMANPOUR (on camera): But how did the church decide that he was, in fact, heroic and virtuous, after having previously deemed him to be quite the opposite?

SARNO: It never deemed him to be quite the opposite.

AMANPOUR: Well, it certainly considered him to be.

SARNO: No. It considered the accusations being made against him.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): The church refuses to talk about the investigations of Padre Pio. Two reports that criticized him and those infamous tape recordings are now stored somewhere behind the Vatican walls.

MARTIN: He suffered not only physically, but morally, spiritually. His whole life was nothing but suffering.

AMANPOUR: Eventually, the church came to respect that suffering and accept Padre Pio. San Giovanni became a legitimate pilgrimage center, rivaling Lourdes and Assisi.

And in 1947, Padre Pio received a visitor who would one day become a great ally, Father Karol Wojtyla. Today, he is Pope John Paul II.

DIFLUMERI: At the time he was in Rome at the Polish college, he heard about Padre Pio and came here. He confessed to Padre Pio, and he listened to Padre Pio's mass.

AMANPOUR: Years later, in 1964, Father Wojtyla wrote a letter to Padre Pio asking him to pray for one of his parishioners who was dying of cancer. DIFLUMERI: After only 11 days, Karol Wojtyla wrote another letter thanking Padre Pio for his prayers and informing him that the woman was completely healed.

AMANPOUR: Wojtyla made two more visits to San Giovanni, the most recent in 1987 as pope. He prayed at Padre Pio's tomb and met the friars.

(on camera): Would it be fair to say that one of the reasons why he's on this track towards beatification and whatever follows is because he has a powerful friend and ally the pope?

SARNO: No. His cause was started in 1982 and has followed its normal process of study and development.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): The normal process of study and development means that Padre Pio must be responsible for one miracle before he can be beatified and another miracle before he can become a saint. Today, he is halfway there.

(on camera): And when we come back, we'll tell you about the first miracle that put Padre Pio on the road to sainthood, a healing that medical science was unable to explain.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back.

As we said, Padre Pio was beatified in 1999, and that was the last formal step toward sainthood. Padre Pio wore the stigmata wounds for 50 years. But the church never considered that a miracle. The church said his first miracle happened long after his death.

(voice-over): At his final mass, Padre Pio took off the gloves that protected his hands and shocked everyone. The stigmata, or the wounds of Christ that he was said to have borne for 50 years, were gone. He died later that night.

MARTIN: They healed with his death, sometimes around the death, because when the body was undressed to prepare it for burial, we discovered that the wounds were completely healed in his entire body and left no scar, which, of course, is a miracle in itself.

AMANPOUR: There is no doubt that Padre Pio's enormous popularity was a result of the stigmata. He is famous for living in constant pain for half a century. But according to the Vatican, the wounds which brought him so much attention have nothing to do with whether he's made a saint.

SARNO: Padre Pio is not being beatified and will not be canonized because he had or did not have or maybe had the stigmata. The cause was started in 1982.

AMANPOUR: Monsignor Robert Sarno is a member of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. One of his jobs is to verify and document miracles. Which are a prerequisite for sainthood. (on camera): Is there such a thing?

SARNO: That's a strange question to ask someone whose life is dedicated to studying the possibility and the reality of miracles. I believe in miracles.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): In Padre Pio's case, the church says a miracle happened 27 years after his death in this hospital room, in the City of Salerno in Southern Italy. It allegedly happened to this woman, 46 year-old Conselia (ph) Rinaldi.

She and her husband run a small grocery store in downtown Salerno, but ever since her story became known, she hasn't been able to go to work. Her daughter, Mikala (ph), explains.

MIKALA (ph): The invading journalists -- they took pictures of her while they were hiding. They tried every way to make her talk, to interview her, and she always refused because she wanted to live this in a very reserved way without talking to anybody about it. She wanted it to be a thing of her own.

AMANPOUR: Mrs. Rinaldi agreed to give CNN access to her doctors and an interview with her daughter. She herself would not grant us an interview.

Her story starts on November 1st, 1995. After driving her daughter Mikala (ph) to the ballet school she runs, Mrs. Rinaldi suddenly had difficulty breathing. She noticed a large swelling on her neck and immediately went to the Salerno Civic Hospital. Dr. Carlo Mozzarella (ph) is chief of emergency surgery.

DR. CARLO MOZZARELLA (ph), SALERNO CIVIC HOSPITAL: It was a soft tumor the size more or less of an orange. At the time, I didn't make any diagnosis, I was shocked, and I gave the order to do a CT scan.

AMANPOUR: The CT scan showed that Conselia's (ph) lymph duct had burst and that a large amount of fluid was building in her neck and chest. It was an unusual condition, not life-threatening but requiring an operation to drain the lymphatic fluid and repair the broken duct.

As Mrs. Rinaldi waited in this ward, doctors ordered a second CT scan. But before they took it, her daughter says something miraculous happened.

MIKALA (ph): It was just the two of us. She was sort of between sleep and being awake, and she was talking. She said she had seen Padre Pio far away, and he said "Don't worry. I will be your surgeon." When she woke up I realized that the swelling she had on her neck, which was really enormous, had gone down.

AMANPOUR: The second CT scan showed a drastic reduction in the swelling. A third was ordered, and it showed the lymphatic liquid had disappeared, all in the span of 24 hours with no medical intervention.

MOZZARELLA (ph): A spontaneous case like the one that happened to Mrs. Conselia (ph) is not part of my experience.

AMANPOUR: The Rinaldis were devout Catholics and frequent visitors to the tomb of Padre Pio. They believe that he had interceded. They called one of the monks in San Giovanni, Friar Modestino (ph).

MIKALA (ph): Friar Modestino (ph) said, "Don't leave the hospital. Stay at least three days and let them do all the tests to assure that you are OK, that you have recovered, because this will be the miracle that will bring the beatification of Padre Pio."

AMANPOUR: The friars had been waiting for that for 27 years, ever since Padre Pio died. He could only be considered for sainthood, according to Vatican rules, five years after his death. Medically, the Rinaldi case seemed promising. It was both well documented and inexplicable.

MOZZARELLA (ph): I personally and scientifically cannot explain it. I don't know how to explain it, and as to whether it is or isn't a miracle, I won't dare to say it isn't.

AMANPOUR: The next step was to certify the alleged miracle in an ecclesiastical courtroom in Salerno's cathedral. Witnesses were called, including the Rinaldis and the doctors. They had to field questions from among others the archbishop and the devil's advocate.

(on camera): Where does the so-called devil's advocate come in to all of this? I understand there is a devil's advocate.

SARNO: Well, that's an old term that was abolished in 1983, and, basically, it is now called the promoter of the faith or the prelate theologian, and his responsibility basically is to make sure that every possible element of discussion, every possible explanation, whether it be pro or con, has been discussed.

MIKALA (ph): It's a person who asks a lot of questions to put you in a difficult position. He wants to get to -- that is he doesn't believe. He doesn't believe in what happened.

DIFLUMERI: Because he makes a lot of objections, makes it difficult, it is said he plays the role of the devil so someone is not declared a saint.

AMANPOUR: The case evidently passed the test. At this ceremony, with Conselia (ph) Rinaldi and the Friar Modestino (ph) looking on, the archbishop of Salerno gave the miracle his official stamp of approval.

Next, the miracle was presented to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, specifically its board of doctors.

SARNO: The doctors would come in and be the ones to tell us whether there is a possible case here, in other words whether the cure was lasting, instantaneous, perfect, and inexplicable.

AMANPOUR: Dr. Rafaelo Cortisini (ph), a world-renowned transplant specialist, is president of the 100-member medical consult to the congregation. His specialists studied the CT scans and reexamined Mrs. Rinaldi.

DR. RAFAELO CORTISINI (ph), TRANSPLANT SPECIALIST: That this thoracic duct spontaneously healing -- this is the miracle. Usually, we must operate.

AMANPOUR: Cortisini (ph), a devout Catholic, says he's a friend of the pope, but he insists there was no pressure on him to declare a miracle in this case. He says his reputation as well as those of the other doctors is on the line.

CORTISINI (ph): It is a relatively simple case. Because she was sick, she went to the hospital. Padre Pio came, and he cured her. It was very simple, like all things involving Padre Pio.

AMANPOUR: The next step was a meeting like this one, where the congregation debated whether Padre Pio was actually responsible for the miracle. The man in the dark glasses is the Vatican's promoter of the faith, the devil's advocate. As expected, it was deemed that God did perform a miracle through Padre Pio.

SARNO: This is the position paper written on the life and the activity of Padre Pio.

AMANPOUR (on camera): All of this is the studies on Padre Pio himself?

SARNO: Yes. All these volumes.

AMANPOUR: All these volumes?


AMANPOUR (voice-over): This six-volume report was finally sent up the ladder to a committee of cardinals and then to the pope himself. John Paul's approval came on December 21, 1998.

Now that he's beatified, Padre Pio must intercede in one more miracle before he can be made a saint. But, to his followers, he already is one.

MARTIN: He's a saint's saint. I mean, there's no one like Padre Pio. If he's not a saint, they might as well close heaven up.

AMANPOUR (on-camera): Is Padre Pio on a short track to sainthood?

SARNO: Once he is beatified, one more miracle granted by God through his intercession, will be required for canonization. When that will occur? Ask God.


AMANPOUR: Well, shortly after we filmed that interview and just eight months after Padre Pio's beatification, the Vatican says the second miracle did occur, this time at the hospital in San Giovanni Rotondo, a hospital that Padre Pio himself had founded.

A little boy, the son of a doctor, was deep in a coma triggered by meningitis. His mother said the doctors had given up, and she started praying to Padre Pio. The boy woke up, and he was fine. And like the first miracle, doctors consulted by the Vatican agreed that there was no medical explanation.

Despite the skeptics inside and outside the church, there is no doubt that Padre Pio was and remains one of the Catholic faith's most popular and revered figures, and coming, as it does, at this time, his canonization may well provide the church and its faithful with some much-needed spiritual cleansing.

I'm Christiane Amanpour in London. Thank you for joining us for this special report.




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