As the world continues to experience the devastating effects of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic – deaths, hospitalizations, and untold economic damage, it can be helpful to look at how the world was plagued by a similar virus and how one particular saint reacted to it: Padre Pio.
The Spanish Influenza
From February 1918 to April 1920, the Spanish Influenza infected some 500 million people worldwide, roughly one third of the world’s population. The death toll was staggering. Somewhere 50 million died, making it one of the deadliest pandemics in human history.
St. Padre Pio – who had recently received the stigmata – was also infected. So were people close to him in San Giovanni Rotondo where he lived and Pietrelcina where he was born. Friars, spiritual daughters and sons, and even his own family members fell ill. His own dear sister and nephew lost their lives because of it.
In a new book recently translated in English, The Pandemic of Padre Pio: Disciple of our Lady of Sorrows, Stefano Campanella thoroughly researched this little-known period of Padre Pio’s life.
What becomes immediately clear is how Padre Pio saw the providential work of God throughout the ordeal despite the tremendous personal suffering and that of those about him.
In a letter to one of his spiritual daughters, Antonietta Vona, dated October 27, Padre Pio wrote: “I am responding to your letter several days late due to my health which leaves much to be desired. I am out of danger, this is true, but I feel very weak and helpless to be able to react. Fiat voluntas Dei [May the Will of God be done].”
Why is this happening?
In another letter, Fr. Benedetto Nardella, Padre Pio’s spiritual director and provincial minister, asked him to help interpret the events taking place.
Fr. Benedetto wrote: “Tell me where we are headed with these scourges? What does the future hold for us? I am afraid in observing how justice is not placated and the sky is becoming increasingly obscure.”
Padre Pio's Response
Padre Pio wrote back: "The current scourge, in the ends of God, is to bring man closer to divinity as its main goal. As a secondary and immediate end, then, it is to exonerate the persecutions against the children of God that would follow on the part of the children of this [world], as a just fruit of the present war. Do not fear then that iniquity will come to crush righteousness; but iniquity itself will crush itself, and justice will triumph."
In both of these letters, we see Padre Pio’s abiding faith in God in all circumstances. The saint discerned the Hand of God even during the brutal pandemic that was wreaking havoc around the world.
Even if God was not the acting, or causative, agent behind the Spanish influenza, Padre Pio saw God using it for “primary and secondary ends”; that is, to bring man closer to Him, to enact divine justice and mercy, and to crush iniquity.
The Pandemic of Padre Pio: Disciple of Our Lady of Sorrows is available at Amazon in paperback and ebook.