“The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The Greek word translated as “dwelt” (?σκ?νωσεν; “eskenosen”) means, more literally, “put up his tent among us,” or “tabernacled, sojourned.” Drawing on Old Testament imagery (see Ex 25:8–9), within this tent or tabernacle, God would “dwell in our midst.” Using poetic imagery, St. John’s message is that the Word is the new mode of God’s presence among his people. The tent is the world, which is now indwelt by Jesus. Christ is begotten as a man and has fully informed the world.
The specific place where Jesus dwelled most of his earthly life was his hometown of Nazareth. Scripture reveals that most of Jesus’ early life was ordinary. In Nazareth, he grew up and “was obedient to [his parents and] advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man” (Luke 2:51-52). Even during his ministries – in which he began publicly performing miracles and healings – he did ordinary things. Within these mundane events and happenings, extraordinary things occurred.
It is said that one cannot fully know someone else without visiting the place where he or she grew up. At the affective level, for those who love Christ, there is something moving about walking where Jesus walked and touching his land. One feels a special closeness to Jesus after seeing the vistas his eyes gazed upon. As anyone who has been on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land can attest, visiting the places where Jesus lived leads to a more profound understanding of the Scriptures. Indeed, after a visit to the Holy Land, one never hears the Gospels in quite the same way.
Like Christ who was formed in a very human way in his hometown of Nazareth, the saints, too, led human lives. They were not formed in a vacuum. In their own hometowns – among parents and relatives, educators and catechists, friends and companions – their personalities, minds, and spiritualities were formed. They are people, and they have their personal story. Padre Pio was no exception.
In Following Padre Pio: A Journey of Discovery from Pietrelcina to San Giovanni Rotondo, author Bret Thoman takes a look at the life of the great stigmatized saint in a novel way: by personally exploring all the friaries where he lived. The reality is that Padre Pio was the progeny of a people. He was formed by those of his native town, as well as the friars of the Capuchin Province he entered. Just as Christians explore the Holy Land to know Christ more intimately, by visiting Padre Pio’s friaries, one can understand him better.
Combining scholarship, studies in Franciscan spirituality, and personal experience, Thoman has created a fresh, new narrative about Padre Pio. Drawing on the Letters of Padre Pio, the early Italian sources, and updated biographies, this book generously adds to the repertoire of works on the Capuchin saint from San Giovanni Rotondo.
But this book is more than another “Life of Padre Pio.” With Pietrelcina as his base, Thoman sets out each morning to all the friaries where Padre Pio lived. In the “Footsteps” sections, he accompanies the reader into these special places with captivating storytelling and detailed descriptions of what he encounters.
The province of Sant'Angelo and Foggia (currently renamed, Padre Pio and Foggia) is vast. It covers three regions.
For the drafting of this book, the author followed Padre Pio’s life from his birth and childhood in Pietrelcina, through his entrance into the Capuchin Order and various assignments throughout the vast Province of Sant’Angelo and Foggia, and finally to San Giovanni Rotondo where he lived for five decades.
The first excursion begins in Morcone, where the future Padre Pio entered the novitiate in 1903. After making first vows, he was sent to Sant’Elia a Pianisi to begin his studies. The next ten years were spent among various friaries throughout the vast Province interspersed with stints back home at Pietrelcina for health reasons: the Sanctuary of the Madonna dei Monti in Campobasso (1905); San Marco la Catola (1905-1906); Serracapriola (1907-1908); Montefusco (autumn-winter, 1908); Gesualdo (1911); Venafro (October-December 7, 1911); and Foggia (1916). Finally, he ascended the Gargano Promontory where he would live in the rural friary outside of San Giovanni Rotondo. There he would remain for fifty years until his death on September 23, 1968.
All the cells where Padre Pio lived have been preserved with vintage furnishings to make them look exactly like they were in the early twentieth century. Additionally, each site boasts a small museum with relics and artefacts from his life. Numerous photographs are included in the book.
The journey throughout the vast Province of Padre Pio was not easy. The author logged over 1,500 kilometers (930 mi) on his vehicle to reach the sites spread out across three southern Italian regions. Many are in remote mountain locations making them difficult to find and hard to reach.
But the difficulties were countered with rewarding visits among the friars, sisters, and laypersons the author met along the way – including some who knew Padre Pio personally. Their testimonies and stories are the highlight of the book.
In Gesualdo, for example, the author met Fr. Emidio Cappabianca, who was with Padre Pio when he died. Friars like him - and others the author met along the way - were the highlight of the journey in the footsteps of Padre Pio.
Walking in the footsteps of Padre Pio brought to life this great saint of the twentieth century in a remarkable way. The author's faith was strengthened as he came to know Padre Pio more deeply.
For those who will never be able to visit the friaries of Padre Pio personally, this book is like a pilgrimage that can be taken from one’s armchair at home. It is worth the trip.
Following Padre Pio: A Journey of Discovery from Pietrelcina to San Giovanni Rotondo is available on Amazon in paperback, hardbound, and ebook formats.