The Communion of Saints -The extraordinary spiritual friendship between St Padre Pio and St Gemma Galgani (Part 2)
Part 1 of this article began to document and explore the special spiritual friendship between Saint Padre Pio and Saint Gemma using as it source the excellent book "Nella Comunione dei Santi -Santa Gemma Galgani San Pio Da Pietrelcina" by Luca Lucchini, Citta de Vaticano:Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2005, more info here. In this present article we will continue to explore the spiritual relationship between St Pio and St. Gemma using the above book as our source.
I would like to give special thanks to Mrs. Angelica Avcikurt who kindly provided the translations, chapter synopsis, and many of the commentaries below. May God bless and reward her for her efforts.
The basic premise of the book is that St. Pio of Pietralcina modeled his mystical life on St. Gemma Galgani. Upon comparing the letters and ecstasies of St. Gemma Galgani to the letters that St. Padre Pio wrote to his spiritual directors, especially between the years 1910-1913, the author found that St. Pio was using similar, if not identical, expressions found in the writings of St. Gemma, without making a reference to her.
We will begin exploring the spiritual friendship between St Pio and St Gemma with the book's Introduction, by Fr. Giandomenico Mucci, S.J.:
“It is as if the young religious (Padre Pio), propelled by the same desire for holiness as his model (St. Gemma), found in the words of the saint (St. Gemma)the most adequate expression of his own interior world and did not bother to clarify that the words he used were not all his.” (p.XVI)
“The phenomenon of the copied letters possibly originated from the young Capuchin’s need to make his own a human and spiritual experience more advanced than his, to identify himself with it and make it a part of him…He reports with very few modifications the typical passages of the spiritual development of Gemma, and finds in them the right words to express what he is feeling at the moment, and uses them without quoting the author (Gemma).” (p. XVII-VIII)
Irregardless, this "holy plaguerism" of Gemma's writings by Padre Pio was investigated during his cause for canonisation in the late 1990's and was highlighted in several articles (see part one of this article for more info). When we consider that Padre Pio was being drawn along the same spiritual path as Gemma -that of a "victim soul", and that he had also begun receiving the same mystical graces as Gemma (stigmata, ecstasies and heavenly visions, battles with the demons etc) thus we can easily understand Padre Pio's affection and devotion to Gemma as a "spiritual friend" who understood well what he himself was experiencing.
In the preface, the author (Luca Lucchini), describes how his love for Padre Pio was in part due to his friendship with Fra Modestino Fucci da Pietralcina, a humble doorman at the convent of San Giovanni Rotondo who spent many years together with Padre Pio and who, according to Luca, was continuing the mission of Padre Pio.
“It was Fra Modestino himself who confirmed to me the esteem and devotion that tied Padre Pio to St. Gemma Galgani, when I went to her tomb in Lucca for the first time on October 9, 1999, being invited by my friend Brunella Carrari di Pescia. When I told Fra Modestino that I was struck by the holiness of the beautiful virgin from Lucca, he, with his unmistakable accent from Piertralcina that made him resemble Padre so much, told me: ‘Guaglio’ (man), look, this meeting has been a grace from Padre Pio who wanted to make St. Gemma known to you, one of the saints that he loved the most.” (p.XXIII)
Fra Modestino was a close companion of St Pio and served as a secretary and porter alongside St Pio at San Giovanni Rotundo, and he was one of Padre Pio's 'spiritual sons. On his deathbed, Padre Pio gave him a crucifix, which he kept with devotion until his death this past August, 2011 at age 94. Throughout the years he often greeted the many visitors to St Giovanni Rotundo.
To continue with this study, chapter one of the book compares the many simlarities in the lives of Sts. Pio and Gemma:
"Chapter 1: A Comparison of Two Saints
"Gemma had to leave the Giannini House on January 24, 1903 because of TB and died after 3 months of suffering on April 11. Just two days before, on January 22, 1903, the young Francesco Forgione (Padre Pio) took the Capuchin habit and began his novitiate in Morcone, changing his name to Fra Pio da Pietralcina. Thus, the beginning of Padre Pio’s religious life coincides with Gemma’s last agony. Gemma died with physical suffering and spiritual desolation. She told Eufemia Giannini when she was dying: “I don’t ask anything anymore. I have sacrificed everything and everyone.” This spirit of abandonment and immolation is what Padre Pio was called to, just like Gemma, to take part in a co redemptive vocation. Padre Pio in a letter he wrote to his director Padre Agostino on October 10, 1915, confirms that his celestial visions started soon after he entered the novitiate."
Next the book explores the common spirituality that exsisted between St Pio and St Gemma:
"Chapter 2: Identification with the same Spirit
"Padre Pio’s identification with Santa Gemma, as can be seen in his writings and ecstasies, started between the years 1910-1913. During these years Padre Pio had been sent home to Pietralcina due to illness. In October of 1911, Padre Pio was sent to a convent in Venafro where he spent a month and a half. He had several ecstasies during this period. The following ecstasy transcribed by Padre Agostino has much in common with the ecstasies of St. Gemma.
Padre Pio’s ecstasy of November 28, 1911 “Jesus, you want to go away….stay a little more….it is so sweet to be with You!......Oh, how well one is (Come si sta bene)… I love You…..a lot…..I want to be completely Yours…..don’t You see that I am burning for You?...We are..we are alone, I with You alone, You alone with me.”
Gemma (ecstasy #49): “How well one is with Jesus! (Come si sta bene con Gesu)
Words of St. Gemma when leaving the Giannini house on January 24, “Alone with Jesus alone.” (Sola con Gesu solo.”)"
The years that Padre Pio spent in Pietralcina were years of suffering. He suffered because he longed to be a monk in a monastery and because of his illness; he had to live at home, just like St. Gemma longed to be admitted to a convent and suffered rejection. Another coincidence noted by Luca, is that when Padre Pio was at the height of his identification with Gemma in 1912, he was 25 years old, the age at which St. Gemma died.
Another similarity is that during that time, Padre Pio was suffering from the scandalous behavior of his sister Pellegrina. Gemma had her sister Angelina, “the black sheep of the family.” To both Padre Pio and Gemma the moral conduct of their sisters was cause of suffering. Finally, like Gemma, Padre Pio was experiencing extraordinary visions and ecstasies during this period.
Padre Pio requests the writings of St. Gemma:
On May 2, 1912, Padre Pio wrote the following to Padre Benedetto: “I ask a favor of you. I would like to read the small book entitled Letters and Ecstasies of the Servant of God Gemma Galgani; also the other one of the same servant of God entitled The Holy Hour. I am sure that she, finding my desire right, will obtain them for me. I send my regards and ask for your blessing.Your Fra Pio.”
If we notice the date of this letter (May 1912), in which Padre Pio requests the books by St. Gemma, we realize that this is after the period where he heavily quotes from the writings of St. Gemma (1910-and after). Therefore, we may assume that Padre Pio had already read these books in the monastery as a novice and at this time was requesting s copy of his own. It seems exceptional that the life and holiness of St. Gemma seem to be so widely known just nine years after her death, especially considering a time period where the media was not what it is now.
Chapter 3 studies the Passio-centrism in Gemma and Pio
Evident Similarities: That which is really relevant is the similarity in the human and spiritual journey which allows us to understand more easily why Padre Pio chose Gemma as a point of reference at the beginning of his ascetical and mystical journey. Not only are their life experiences similar but also their mystical experiences. They both had to fight with the devil; they had similar devotions, including supernatural manifestations of Baby Jesus, Mary as Mother of Sorrows, and the guardian angel. The presence of the angels, especially the guardian angel, constitutes a basic element in the mystical experience of Gemma and Padre Pio. Their guardian angels would take letters and carry messages, instructed them in the ways of the spirit, and helped them understand the Will of God for them.
It is important to emphasize that the similarity in their letters is not only a matter of copying. Padre Pio was well aware that it was Christ who made him have this spiritual closeness with Gemma. As evidence we can compare Gemma’s letter 85 to Fr. Germano to Padre Pio’s letter 118 to padre Agostino. In these letters, Jesus gives the same revelation to Padre Pio that he had given to Gemma 12 years earlier. In these letters, both Gemma and Padre Pio tell their confessors that Jesus complained to them about the ingratitude and sinfulness of humanity, the sacrilegious Communions and He also expressed His sadness that creatures do not respond to His love. Jesus ends with similar requests to both:
Gemma reports Jesus’ request in letter #85 “Daughter, I need many souls that may bring me as much consolation as others bring me suffering. I need victims, strong victims. In order to calm the just and divine wrath of My Father, I need souls that with their suffering and tribulations and discomforts can make up for the sinners and the ungrateful.”
Padre Pio’ reports Jesus’ request in letter #118: “My son, adds Jesus, I need victims to calm the just and divine wrath of My Father, renew the sacrifice of your whole self and do it without any reservations.”
More on the Mystical Symbiosis between Pio and Gemma ("Symbiosis" is defined as living together in a close and intimate relationship or union):
“One could dare say in light of the writings analyzed in this book that God had realized in them (Gemma and Padre Pio) a spiritual twin relationship that as its climax has their uniformity of thought, lived and written, almost in symbiosis.
This expression is used in mystical hagiography when, as in our case, there exists a relationship of identification between individuals belonging to the
Church Militant, that is to say, us here on Earth, and those belonging to the
Church Triumphant, that is, the saints in Heaven” (p.28) According to Padre C.
Naselli, who wrote the book “Sorella mia..Santa Gemma Galgani e San Gabriele
dell’Addolorata tra il visibile e l’invisibile” (My Sister…Santa Gemma Galgani
and St. Gabriel of Sorrows between the visible and the invisible), this was the
relationship that existed between St. Gemma and St. Gabriel.
The devotion that St. Gemma had for St. Gabriel of Sorrows is another element that Padre Pio had in common with her. Both of them got to know him and admire him by reading his biography. Perhaps Padre Pio after reading that Gemma had read the life of St Gabriel so many times, felt that he wanted to get to know this young Passionist saint better. On October 1, 1910 Padre Pio wrote to Padre Benedetto: “Please do me the favor of sending me any devotional book. I would also greatly like to read the life of Blessed Gabriel, Passionist.”
Their amazement regarding the spiritual gifts given to the both of them:
Both Gemma and Padre Pio were confused by their spiritual gifts and wanted to hide the supernatural graces as they felt ashamed. They both would have preferred the ordinary life.
Gemma wrote to Fr. Germano: “I pray so much, you know, that Jesus will put me in the ordinary way (via), and I want this grace because it seems to me that things are starting to be known.”
Padre Pio wrote to Fr. Benedetto: “You know, Father, I don’t give any importance to my extraordinary state, and this is why I don’t cease to ask Jesus that he lead me through the ordinary way as well as all souls.”(p.36)
Next, Chapter 4 explores the supernatural gift of the stigmata which both Saints shared
Crucified with Christ
St. Gemma and Padre Pio have in common the fact that they were the first and the most famous stigmatics of the XX century that were canonized by the Catholic Church. Both saints had the typical signs of the Passion of Christ in their bodies, wounds in their hands, feet and side, wounds made by the flagellation, the crown of thorns, the sweating of blood and the transverberation. Their experience of the transverberation (the mystical piercing of the heart usually by an angel with a burning arrow) was extraordinarily similar because of the burn on the skin where the wound was.
Reactions of the Church: A Reciprocal Influence
Both Gemma and Padre Pio had to suffer from negative reactions from scientists and the Church. Gemma was often regarded as a fool or a hysteric. Padre Pio was forbidden for two years to hear confessions and celebrate Mass in public.
During the 1920’s and 30’s in Rome, there was probably some connection between the Aposotolic Process of Gemma and the rehabilitation of Padre Pio, which took place on July 16th, 1933 just 2 months after the beatification of Gemma, on May 14, 1933. Surely those overseeing the 'punishments' and sanctioning of Padre Pio must have reconsidered because if the stigmatic Gemma could be beatified based on her heroic virtue, then Padre Pio’s case certainly deserved better consideration.
Next, Chapter V explores St Pio’s Specific Devotion to St Gemma
Fra Modestino Fucci da Pietralcina confirmed to the author that the most common name Padre Pio used to refer to Gemma was "the great saint" (la grande Santa) or "the big saint" (la Santona).
Enzo Bertani, a spiritual son of Padre Pio and a witness in the beatification process told the author that Padre Pio was very devoted to St. Gemma and often when he spoke about her in their conversations, Padre Pio would be moved to tears. He also advised many persons to name their daughters, Gemma.
Next we have the testimony of Sister Vittoria Vanossi of the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of St. Gemma Galgani. She said that sometimes Mother Gemma Eufemia Giannini, founder of the institute, had sent pilgrims to Padre Pio, and that Padre Pio would tell them, “What are you doing here asking me for a grace, run to Lucca that is closer to you, because there is St. Gemma, who is a great saint.”
Madre Eufemia Giannini also told Mario Tomaino that in numerous occasions that she went to San Giovanni Rotondo that Padre Pio confided to her that he received frequent “visits” from St. Gemma, meaning that Gemma was appearing to him.
Note that those familiar with the life of St Gemma will recognise Mother Eufemia Gemma Giannini as Gemma's close friend during the last 3 years of her life. In fact, Eufemia was present at Gemma's death, and kneeling at Gemma's bedside she held Gemma's hand pressed to her own breast at the last moments of Gemma's holy life. She has since been declared "Venerable" by the Catholic church and for those interested I have written an article about her here.
Padre Pio often after hearing the confession of his spiritual children would give them something as a souvenir, a piece of tobacco, a little flower, or a holy card. To some he gave a holy card of St. Gemma recommending devotion to her.
Cleonice Morcaldi, a spiritual daughter of Padre Pio once asked him: “You have told me that a grace doesn’t depend on you. Jesus, however, has made me feel that I’ve been heard. Am I delusional?” To which Padre Pio replied, “Now, was St. Gemma’s desire to enter a convent an illusion? The Church does not raise to the altars someone who is not healthy in mind and heart. God placed that desire in her heart so that she would live in the standard of cloistral life.”
In his book "Un esorcista si confessa: Un'obbedienza e un mandato al Santuario di santa Gemma: confessore ed esorcista" Padre Alfredo Pallotta writes:
"During exorcisms, I have noted the presence of St Michael the Archangel, and the presence of the guardian angel of the exorcised, as well as that of St Gemma, St Padre Pio of Pietrelcina and the Madonna"
Sts. Gemma and Pio -Accomplices together in a Miracle? -The extraordinary case of Gemma di Giorgi
(Photo left: Gemma di Giorgi on the day of her First holy Communion)
In the holy and remarkable life of St Pio there is also the famous miracle attributed to him of the girl born blind without pupils, named Anna Gemma di Giorgi (who was named after St Gemma, and therefore Gemma was her patron Saint). Anna Gemma, known to everyone simply as "Gemma" was born on Christmas day in 1939, in the Sicilian town of Ribera. Almost immediately, her mother realized that her eyes were different, and this was soon confirmed by the family physician. However due to finacial circumstances and her young age, some years would pass until they knew the true extent of her vision impairment. Eventually, two specialists in Palermo determined that Gemma had no pupils in her eyes and after numerous tests they determined that she was what we would call today "legally blind". Without pupils, Gemma could not see clearly at all--everything was exceedingly blurred and foggy.
Gemma's family were devout Catholic's, and together they often prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary and also they offered many prayers and a novena to St Gemma Galgani, Anna Gemma's patron Saint, asking for a cure. One day a relative who was a nun suggested that they seek the intercession of Padre Pio, so Gemma’s grandmother asked the nun to write a letter to Padre Pio on Gemma’s behalf. Not long after writing the letter the nun saw him in a dream. Padre Pio asked her, “Where is this Gemma for whom so many prayers are being offered that they are almost deafening?” In her dream, the nun introduced Gemma to Padre Pio and he made the sign of the cross on her eyes. The next day the nun received a letter from Padre Pio in which he wrote,“Dear daughter, rest assured that I will pray for Gemma.I send you my best wishes.”
Struck by the remarkable dream and the letter that followed the grandmother took 7 year old Gemma on a pilgrimage to San Giovanni Rotondo to see Padre Pio. On the trip to San Giovanni Rotondo Gemma’s eyesight mysteriously began functioning, and she excitidly and very joyfully saw the ocean for the first time.
Arriving at San Giovanni Rotondo, Padre Pio called Gemma by her name before she was even introduced to him. He heard her confession, and even though she made no mention of her blindness, he touched her eyes with his stigmatised hand, and traced upon her eyes the sign of the cross.
(A closeup of Gemma di Giorgi's eyes can be seen in the photo to the left)
When Gemma returned to Sicily her eyes were again examined by her specialist. To test her eyesight, the doctor held up various objects in front of her and she was
able to see each one of them. Further she was able to count the doctor’s fingers at a distance of sixteen feet. Gemma, even though without pupils, could now miraculously see, yet dumbfounded the doctor declared that Gemma’s eyes were in no condition to see, as there was no medical explanation for it.
A full account of the extraordinary cure of Gemma di Giorgi can be read here.
Whether this miracle can be attributed to St Padre Pio only, or his intercession in collaboration with St. Gemma, is in the end up to the Church to decide. However given the families prayers to both Gemma and Pio, and knowing of the close spiritual friendship that exsisted between these two Saints, it is easy to conclude that the prayers and supplications of both together likely played a part in this extraordinary miracle.
~St Gemma Galgani, pray for us! ~St Padre Pio, pray for us!
The book "Nella Comunione dei santi. Santa Gemma Galgani a San Pio da Pietrelcina" can be purchased through www.deastore.com with free shipping to the USA. For more information see this online book catalog from the publisher, Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Click here for more information. -Note: This book is only availible in Italian.