Biography of Padre Pio, a 20th-century Italian friar who claimed religious miracles, including stigmata.
Luzzatto (Modern History/Univ. of Turin, Italy; The Body of Il Duce: Mussolini’s Corpse and the Fortunes of Italy, 2005) recounts the little-known tale of the modest Capuchin monk who experienced a religious epiphany in September 1918 that spurred controversy and divided Catholics for decades. “I look at my hands, feet, and side and see they are wounded and blood is pouring out,” he reported. Padre Pio claimed his injuries were actually the mark of the stigmata, agitating not only his small mountain town, but the head of the church in Rome as well. Set against the backdrop of war-torn Italy, Luzzatto offers a rich story of faith versus science, in which Padre Pio’s claims of miraculous wonder were believed by the people but discounted by the pope. By 1945, Padre Pio received 45,000 letters per year, though his popularity made him a target. The Catholic Church was uncertain how to deal with the holy man, though “[b]etween 1918 and 1968, every pontiff tried, directly or indirectly, to put his stamp on Padre Pio.” On the church’s authority, Padre Pio underwent a battery of psychological tests, leading his examiner to conclude his subject of “infirm mind” and a “psychiatric hospital mystic.” Yet soon after, another examination concluded differently, offering a “vote of confidence for Padre Pio.” The mystery remained unresolved, though doubt began rising once more when it was discovered that Padre Pio often retained small amounts of carbolic acid in his cell—a chemical fully capable of burning the marks he claimed were God-given. The world watched as Rome struggled to decide whether they were debunking a myth or disregarding a miracle. Luzzatto hones in on the central question: “could a good Christian ever accept the existence of an alter Christus, a living Christ figure?” Padre Pio’s experiences would suggest not, at least in the view of the papacy.
A solid exploration into the fine line between the faithful and the fraudulent in 20th-century Catholicism.