The Blessed Mother said to him: “I am entrusting this unborn child to your care and protection.”
by Frank M. Rega, S.F.O.
While two patron saints are generally invoked for the protection of the unborn, St. Joseph and St. Gerard Majella, neither is specifically assigned by the Church for that cause. St. Gerard is in fact the Patron of Expectant Mothers, and by accommodation becomes a patron for the unborn. St. Joseph has often been proposed as a patron saint of the unborn, because of his role as protector of the Holy Family and patron of the Universal Church. However, St. Padre Pio has a specific claim to this honor, a prerogative that was confirmed by the Blessed Virgin Mary herself.
The story begins in 1905, well before he became famous for his stigmata and other spiritual gifts. At that time he was still a seminarian, known as Brother Pio, and was assigned to the humble friary of St. Elia a’ Pianisi, in southern Italy. After his involvement in an unusual and striking spiritual encounter, Brother Pio immediately wrote everything down and handed it to his spiritual director, Padre Agostino. The note eventually became part of the documentation presented to the Vatican during the process of his canonization over seventy-five years later. Here is what occurred, in Brother Pio’s own words:
Several days ago I had an extraordinary experience. About 11:00 in the evening [of January 18, 1905] Brother Anastasio and I were in the choir. Suddenly I found myself at the same time in the palace of an extremely wealthy family. The master of the house was dying just as his daughter was about to be born.
Then the Blessed Mother appeared and, turning to me, said, “I am entrusting this unborn child to your care and protection. Although she will become a precious jewel, right now she has no form. Shape and polish her. Make her as brilliant as you can, because one day I would like to adorn myself with her.”
I replied, “How can this be possible? I am only a poor seminarian and don’t even know whether I will have the joy and good fortune to become a priest. Even if I do, how will I ever be able to take care of this girl since I will be so far way from here?”
The Blessed Mother admonished me, “Don’t doubt me. She will come to you, but first you will find her in the Basilica of St. Peter’s in Rome.”
After that I found myself back in the choir.
Until now, this note has been considered important primarily because it is the first documented instance of St. Pio’s supernatural gift of bilocation. However, in the light of today’s battle against the abortion holocaust, another aspect of the note takes on added significance. That is, the words of the Blessed Virgin to Brother Pio: “I am entrusting this unborn child to your care and protection.”
What greater recommendation could there possibly be for Padre Pio to be the patron saint of the unborn, than that given by the Blessed Mother herself? She specifically entrusted the care of an infant still in her mother’s womb, and whose father lay dying, to a young seminarian destined to become one of the greatest saints in the history of the Church. Furthermore, she called this girl about to be born a child; she was not a lump of flesh or a blob of tissue, whose life could be legally snuffed out in today’s world by a heinous partial birth abortion procedure.
The name of the child was Giovanna Rizzani. Events happened as Our Lady had predicted, and Padre Pio did meet Giovanna, now a young girl, in St. Peter’s Basilica in 1922. It was another case of bilocation, where he heard her confession and resolved her doubts about the faith. The next year, she did come to see him, again as Our Lady had prophesized, and she realized he was the friar who had heard her confession in Rome. At this latest encounter, Padre Pio explained to her the vision and supernatural events of 1905 when he witnessed her father’s death. He explained that the Virgin Mary had entrusted her to him in order to direct and perfect her soul.
For the next forty-five years, until Padre’s passing in 1968, Giovanna visited him often for spiritual direction, and confessed almost exclusively to him. On one occasion she asked him, “Padre, do you really care for me? He replied: “How could I not care for you. You are the first born of my heart. Love Jesus. Love Our Lady, who thought of you before you were born!” 1,2,3
Abortion: “That’s Killing!”
Padre Pio’s horror of abortion is made clear in an incident told to one of his biographers, Rev. Bernard Ruffin, and recounted in the book Padre Pio: The True Story. 4 Ruffin had interviewed a gentleman named Albert Cardone, who stated that he had learned of Padre Pio from a woman who had gone to the saint for confession. After the woman had enumerated all the sins she could recall, Padre Pio asked her, “Try to remember the other sin.” She said that she could not think of anything more, and Padre Pio told her to visit the cross that is at the top of the mountain, and to recite fifteen Ave Maria’s and Our Fathers as a penance. She then returned to Padre Pio’s confessional a second time, and he asked her if she remembered all of her sins. She insisted that she remembered all of them, but the Padre replied, “No, you still don’t remember all.” He sent her once again to the cross on the mountain. The scenario was repeated a third time, and she still did not recall any other sins. Finally, in a loud voice, Padre Pio said, “Don’t you know he could have been a good priest, a bishop, even a cardinal?”
The poor woman began to cry, exclaiming that she did not know abortion was a sin. The saint countered with, “What do you mean, you didn’t know that this was a sin? That’s killing!” The woman said that no one had been told of the abortion except for her mother, and asked how he could say that the child would have been a priest or a cardinal. Padre Pio answered by repeating, “But it’s a sin, a great sin.” In other words, it did not matter what his position in life would have been.
The Padre Pio literature is replete with stories of infertile couples asking Padre’s intercession for the grace of childbirth. The following story is typical.
During confession, among other things, I manifested to him my great desire to become a father. I had been married for three years, but my wife had not succeeded in having a child. I had her visit the most famous specialists and all of them said that we had to resign ourselves to the situation. There was no other alternative but to ask for a miracle from Padre Pio, and I did so. He replied to me: ‘Do not worry about this, for within a year you will become a father.’ Although I realized that to believe in these words meant denying the medical evidence, my heart was filled with joy. As the Padre had predicted, in 1944 I became the father of a lovely little girl. 5
(It is important to note here that Padre Pio never attributed miraculous cures and occurrences to himself, but always to the grace of God and his Virgin Mother.)
Often he would even successfully predict whether the child would be a boy or a girl. One day an officer in the Carabinieri (State Police) and his expectant wife visited Padre Pio. He asked the saint what name they should give to the soon-to-be-born baby.
“Name him Pio.”
“And what if it is a girl?”
“I said, call him Pio!”
When the time arrived, the newborn boy was given the name of Pio.
Two years later, the same officer went to San Giovanni Rotondo to ask Padre Pio what they should name their second child, who was expected shortly.
“Call him Francesco.”
“But Padre, I grant that you were right last time, but what if it is a girl?”
“Man of little faith!”
A beautiful child was born, and given the name Francesco. 6
Padre Pio is currently known as the patron saint of civil defense volunteers, after a group of 160 of them petitioned the Italian Bishops’ conference. The Bishops forwarded the request to the Vatican, which gave its approval to the designation. 7 He is also “less officially” known as the patron Saint of stress relief and the “January blues,” after the Catholic Enquiry Office in London proclaimed him as such. They designated the most depressing day of the year, January 22, as Don’t Worry Be Happy day, in honor of Padre Pio’s famous advice: “Pray, hope, and don’t worry.” 8 (Quite interesting that the British found the 22nd, the day of Roe v. Wade in the USA, as their most dismal day too.)
Perhaps the latter patronage is a little tongue-in-cheek, but that of the civil defense volunteers is quite legitimate. It is significant to note that it only took 160 signatures for the Vatican to give its official approval to that designation. Incidentally, Padre Pio believed 8 children was an ideal family size.