Take me to Padre Pio
On many hikes to the Jersey Shore I take a number of different routes, my favorite being Route 40 East as it passes through quaint little towns and farmland. My little red Fiat 500X walks past a handful of farm produce stalls promoting freshly picked strawberries, watermelons and peaches, festive garden stores, local wineries, various gift shops, a clothing store Westerners and a woman selling gladioli in a van.
I often say that one day I will stop at some of these country delicacies; yet I never take the time in my haste to reach the beach.
Then I saw it… a Padre Pio marquee that read “pray, hope and don’t worry” in bright red scrolling letters. It was a roadside promotion announcing a beautiful St. Padre Pio Shrine and Outdoor Garden at an intersection in the small town of Landisville, New Jersey.
I swear my Fiat turned left on its own.
“Oh, I have to stop for this,” I muttered to my puppy, Lupini, asleep in the passenger seat, quite indifferent to saints of any kind. I parked and approached the shrine. It was raining and I didn’t mind, my polka dot umbrella stowed away in the trunk.
So peaceful! So moving! Very charming. I immediately cried.
Feeling light and joyful amid the religious icons and the tall statue of Padre Pio, I approached him. He seemed to be looking me straight and deep in the eye, like I was the only person in New Jersey. He seemed alive. Fresh red roses sat at her feet with a touching note from a mom asking for the cure of her daughter with lupus disease. Other handwritten notes were hidden under Jesus’ feet on his statue and near all the other statues, the paper crumpling in the rain.
Music from loudspeakers played softly in the background… “Peace be on earth and let it begin with me.” The garden was full of fresh and fake flowers, wreaths perched on Mother Mary’s head, and several rows of decorative benches with surname inscriptions to commemorate loved ones.
I saw a woman approach Pio – the only other visitor sharing the garden with me.
“It’s so beautiful!” I shared, wanting to unite with someone, anyone, in this experience, even a stranger. She smiled, put her hands on her statue and bowed her head.
My parish, Saint Leo the Great in Little Italy, has a large and beautiful bronze statue which stands to the left of our altar. The statue was a gift “from the inhabitants of the province of Benevento” (Italy) given in 2007 to our congregation by its president, the honorable Carmine Nardone.
Our parish celebrates an annual Padre Pio Mass, this year on September 18 with a mass at 10 a.m. with Archbishop William E. Lori as the main celebrant, as well as our pastor, Father Pallottine Bernard Carman and many others.
Since designing and writing our weekly church newsletter and including information about the upcoming Mass, I have been thinking of the saint. As I sit in the church and gaze at its statue, I recall my wonderful, spontaneous outdoor experience discovering the New Jersey Sanctuary – a four-story monument on ten acres of land. His website tells us that the project was designed by Italian-American farmers in Buena, New Jersey, completed in 2002, the year he was canonized by Saint John Paul II – a devotee of the saint – who in 1999 also beatified Pio.
Saint Padre Pio was born in 1887 in Pietrelcina, Italy. He was a priest and is a saint of the Roman Catholic Church. He was born into a fervent Catholic family and at the age of 5 dedicated himself to Jesus. He is known to have the stigmata of the wounds of Jesus on his body: marks, bleeding and pain corresponding to the wounds suffered by Jesus during the crucifixion. As a rule, many Italians are devoted to the saint and own statues and icons of Pio.
In Jersey or Little Italy take me to Padre Pio, where I will “pray, hope and don’t worry”.
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