Padre Pio's go-between

May 31 2003 | by

PADRE PIO continues to fascinate people all over the world. Some people thought that after his canonisation, popular interest in him would diminish, but this has not happened. As a matter of fact, the number of pilgrims to San Giovanni Rotondo has increased. People pause, moved, to observe the place where this Franciscan friar lived. They seek out with great interest the people who had known or met him personally in order to hear stories about him directly.

Unfortunately, as the years go by, there are fewer and fewer people who can say ‘I met him’ or ‘I spoke to him’. The most notable one is Friar Modestino, a 87-year-old Franciscan who was born in Pietrelcina like Padre Pio and has come to be viewed as his spiritual successor. He has been a Capuchin friar for 57 years and has lived in the friary of San Giovanni Rotondo for 35 years. He is a lay brother, and thus he is not a priest, he doesn’t say Mass nor give confession. But there is no other religious more sought out by people in San Giovanni Rotondo than him.


The legend of Friar Modestino


“People come to confide their problems to me. I listen and then I refer what Padre Pio suggests to me” Friar Modestino tells me in a boyish voice, happily gesticulating and expressing himself in the common dialect of Pietrelcina, just like Padre Pio did.

I spoke to him in the friary, taking him briefly away from the long queue of pilgrims waiting to speak with him. The queue of people contained simple, poor folk, their faces lined with their troubles, but also distinguished, well-dressed executives. Friar Modestino has never studied theology, he learnt to read and write by attending night school, but everyone knows that his answers are enlightened, and even theologians and professors come to him to seek his advice.

“Dear friend, I really don’t know what I say to people,” declares the little friar stretching out his arms. “I pray, I have faith, I love Jesus; Padre Pio does the rest. When I speak, I think of him. He is the one who suggests the answers to me, and they must be right, because when they hear what I say, people are moved, they cry, go to confession and change their lives.”

Friar Modestino is an institution. Everyone considers him Padre Pio’s successor, go-between and secretary. There are many people who go to Padre Pio’s tomb to pray who also wish to speak with Friar Modestino before leaving San Giovanni Rotondo.

The legend surrounding this little friar seems to be a story taken from Saint Francis’ Little Flowers. When Padre Pio had reached the end of his days, he called for Friar Modestino, his friend for years, and fellow villager and said to him: “Come, I have something important for you.” Friar Modestino, who at that time was in a friary in Isernia, about 70km from San Giovanni Rotondo, went to see Padre Pio straightaway. When the saint saw him, he embraced him and said: “Dear brother, I am leaving this world but you will have to carry on my mission for my ‘spiritual children’. Whatever you ask me, I will listen to you.” And to mark his promise, Padre Pio gave the rosary he was holding to Friar Modestino as a gift. Friar Modestino returned to Isernia and two days later received the news that Padre Pio was dead.


The intermediary


From then on, Friar Modestino began his mission: that of being a go-between for Padre Pio and those who need him. His superiors transferred him to San Giovanni Rotondo where he remains to this day.

His mission began quietly, but little by little it grew into becoming a great phenomenon, to the extent that the superiors had to assign the little friar his own room for receiving people, a telephone for urgent cases, and an assistant.

The results are incredible. Hundreds of people arrive from around Italy and also from abroad. Many declare that they have received grace from Padre Pio, through Friar Modestino’s intervention. Even the two official miracles which were used for Padre Pio’s beatification and canonisation involved Friar Modestino.

It is a real pleasure chatting with this simple friar. I met with him while walking under the trees of the friary garden where he used to walk and chat with Padre Pio.

So, Friar Modestino, is there a special direct link between you and Padre Pio?

“Dear brother, I don’t honestly know what there is between me and Padre Pio”, he modestly replies, stretching out his arms and raising his eyes to heaven. “I found myself in the middle of all this without realising it, and I am confused. I am a poor sinner, just like everybody. It’s Padre Pio who wants to make use of me to help those who need him. I feel unworthy, but every morning when I wake up, I humbly put myself at his disposal and try to listen to what he suggests to me and convey it to others. That’s all.”

Is it true that before he died, Padre Pio called you to entrust you with an important task?

“Yes, he sent for me to give me something. But we already had a dialogue going on between us for sometime. I am one of his fellow villagers. My mother was his age, and our land was next to his, so you could say that I grew up always hearing about Padre Pio. After my military service, I went to meet him and I realised that I had to live near him. I left my family and I became a friar too; a lay brother because I hadn’t studied and it was too late to do so. Padre Pio became my spiritual guide, my confessor, my life guide. I became his ‘spiritual son’. He was very fond of me. When we met, he hugged and kissed me as if I were his real son. “I will always be near you” he used to say to me and “Saint Francis’ gaze will always be upon you”. Other times he said to me: “Remember, whatever you want from me, you will have”.

“I was so happy to be Padre Pio’s ‘spiritual son’. One day in 1956, when I was in the friary of Agnone, in Molise, I began thinking about how many people would like to be Padre Pio’s spiritual sons and daughters, but who didn’t have the chance to visit San Giovanni Rotondo in order to ask Padre Pio and receive his approval. Thus I decided to ask Padre Pio’s permission to turn whoever asked me into his spiritual children, in his name and on his behalf. He agreed saying to me, “Do what you ask of me and I will help you”.

“Thus my mission to turn whoever asked me into ‘Padre Pio’s spiritual children’ began. In the middle of September 1968, Padre Pio sent me for saying he had something to give me. I went to San Giovanni Rotondo immediately. It was 20 September. Padre Pio was suffering greatly, but he was standing as he was celebrating the 50th anniversary of his stigmata, which he had since 20 September 1918. I listened to the Mass he celebrated and then went to say hello. He hugged me, he was moved and was crying. At a point, he gave me the rosary he was holding saying: “Spread the rosary devotion among my children.”

“Those were the last words Padre Pio said to me. He died three days later. In his gesture of giving me his rosary, which never left his side, I saw an invitation to involve myself in his spiritual children and spread the practice of reciting the rosary. This duty has become my mission and I have dedicated my entire being to it.”

How many people have become ‘spiritual children’ through you?

“Lots. An armyful. I have been carrying out this apostolate for more than 30 years, every day, for ten, twelve hours, listening to people who need Padre Pio’s help. Many ask me to become Padre Pio’s ‘spiritual children’ and so I give them this possibility with Padre Pio’s authorisation. Every evening, at 9 o’clock, we unite spiritually to pray. I descend into the church crypt, kneel before Padre Pio’s tomb and recite the rosary. All of Padre Pio’s spiritual children, wherever they are, if they can, join me and we pray together. We pray for the suffering, for those in need, for Padre Pio’s intentions, for the Pope’s intentions: we try to render ourselves useful to the world and the problems which afflict it, through prayer, just as Padre Pio taught us.”

Many people have told me that they have obtained extraordinary graces by turning to you. Is this true?

“Not by turning to me. I don’t count. ‘Turning to Padre Pio’, even if through me. I only try to be a useful instrument in his hands. They would also have received these graces without me. These graces derive from their faith and their prayers to God. I am an ‘opportunity’ which draws people’s attention and makes them think of God and Padre Pio.”

If you had to sum up in a few words the characteristics of Padre Pio’s sanctity, what would you say?

“What a difficult question! It is almost impossible to answer. How can you synthesise in a few words the sanctity of such a great soul, so privileged by God, and so rich in immense charisma? Usually, whoever writes or speaks of Padre Pio, concentrates on the external aspects of his existence which are however the least significant, i.e. the amazing facts, miraculous events, discussions and misunderstandings. All true, and they attract curiosity, but distract from Padre Pio’s true spiritual greatness. Luckily, the discussions have ceased thanks to his beatification and canonisation. It is now possible to begin studying the ‘real’ Padre Pio and I hope this happens.”

And who is the ‘real’ Padre Pio?

“In order to understand the ‘real’ Padre Pio, I think it is necessary to reflect on the mission God entrusted to him, a great and unique mission, to be a kind of photocopy of Christ, in other words, his entire person, body and soul, was as perfectly conformed as possible to that of Jesus Christ. He carried out this mission to the end with superhuman commitment. For all of his existence, Padre Pio ‘re-lived’ and ‘repeated’ the mystery of Christ’s ‘suffering’ on this earth, in his own body. He celebrated the tragedy on the Calvary on himself everyday. This is the secret of Padre Pio’s spiritual greatness. In order to understand Padre Pio, the greatly mystic aspects of his mysterious existence must be studied.”

Thus the stigmata?

“Of course, the stigmata. He is the only stigmatised priest in the history of the Church. Everyone knew about these wounds and people have always talked, written and argued about them. But, in his lifetime, there were other signs of enormous importance, which were less well-known, and at times, even hidden.”

For example?

“After Padre Pio’s death, the Superiors put me in charge of all objects which document his mysterious and inexplicable physical suffering and cataloguing them in a secret archive. I found myself faced with an incredible numbers of finds, gathered by fellow friars over the years, each accompanied by a report which gave a startling vision of Padre Pio’s existence. Gloves used to hide the stigmata on his hands; a thermometer used to measure his body temperature which could reach 52°C (125°F); socks covered in the blood of the stigmata on his feet; an enormous quantity of tissues which were used to block the hematic gushing from his rib; various pieces of cloth all full of blood. It was then that I realised that I have the tangible proof of an incredible martyrdom suffered by the beloved Padre Pio throughout his existence. Blood, blood, blood everywhere!

“I felt an unforgettable feeling rush through me when I found five handkerchiefs soaked in blood. The statement which accompanied them was written by Friar Onorato Marcucci on 6 May 1965; it said that three of them had been used by Padre Pio to wipe the sweat off his brow, and with the other two he had wiped his tears. Thus, on that day, Padre Pio had cried tears of blood and, like Jesus in the Olive Grove, he had sweated blood! I then remembered that in the years after the war, when not many people visited San Giovanni Rotondo, I regularly assisted Padre Pio with the Mass. It lasted two hours at times, and I carefully followed his gestures, movements, tears and sighs. At times, I thought I saw on the skin of his forehead and behind his neck, a sudden spasm, and the skin became rough, full of little spots as if he had been pricked by thorns. I also saw that Padre Pio continued to place the middle finger of his right hand on his temples  and made movements as if he wanted to relieve discomfort that was bothering him. I sometimes saw on his forehead a little cross of about 3 centimetres take shape. All of these things fascinated me, but I would never have imagined that while he was celebrating Mass, he suffered the same horrible pain Christ did when the Roman soldiers placed a crown of thorns onto his head.”

Did you make any other discoveries?

“Carrying on with my cataloguing work, I made further discoveries. I found among Padre Pio’s personal items a shirt covered in blood. The statement which accompanied it, dated Good Friday 1921, called it the “flagellation shirt”. I was stunned. It was a long-sleeved shirt made of linen, mended with patches. I laid it delicately on the bed and looked at the cruel sight before my eyes. Bloodstains everywhere. I burst into tears. My poor Padre Pio, beaten and tormented like my Lord! Now I fully understood, in all its reality, the sentence that Padre Pio said to me one May morning in 1947 with his eyes brimming with tears: “My son, my life is a continual martyrdom.” We know from letters to his confessor that he suffered flagellation “once a week nearly”.

“One day while delicately putting away various woollen vests used by Padre Pio, I noticed that that they each had an indelible trace of blood at the height of the right clavicle. One evening in 1947 immediately came to mind, when Padre Pio confessed to me that one of his greatest pains was when he changed his vest. I thought this pain was caused by the wound he had on his chest, but I changed my opinion on that day. That trace of blood at the height of his right collarbone on Padre Pio’s woollen vests was the sign of a bruise of about ten centimetres in diameter. It looked like the wound on Jesus’ shoulder caused by the wooden cross. A wound which can be clearly seen on the Shroud. Padre Pio ‘re-lived’ this torment too, in a mystic and physical way, in his body.

“The documents I catalogued in those years are all there in that secret archive. They have been hidden up until now as they are too shocking and frightening. But they are the moving witness to the ‘real’ identity of Padre Pio. He was Christ’s photocopy. Pope Paul VI said of him: “He was a man of prayer and suffering… he bore the wounds of our Lord”.

Friar Modestino looks at the queue of people waiting to talk with him which, in the meantime, has grown to over 200m long, smiles at me and hurries to his room to receive the pilgrims.

Updated on October 06 2016