Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Padre Pio for a new generation of young Catholics: A Review of "Wounds of Love" by Phillip Campbell

Detail from the cover of Wounds of Love: The Story of Saint Padre Pio.
Like Jeanne d’Arc or Francesco di Bernardone, Francesco Forgione was one of those unique individuals gifted by God to the human race to assure us of His love, His understanding, and above all else, that He is not deaf to our sufferings and entreaties. But unlike these other great visionary saints, Forgione was not a streak of light which flashed across the firmament and returned quickly to heaven. 

Saint Joan’s mission lasted about two years before she was martyred at age 19. 

Saint Francis of Assisi was 45 when he passed to eternity, roughly 20 years elapsing between his call and his death.

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Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, on the other hand, spent almost the entirety of his long life as a suffering servant of Jesus Christ. Afflicted with ill-health, physical infirmities, the Stigmata, and demonic attacks which left him battered and bruised, Padre Pio was also subjected to slanderous assaults on his character, all over a period of nearly seven decades. Yet during that time, he was able to touch the lives of thousands upon thousands of people, uniting his suffering to that of Christ and translating it into God's grace to heal sinners from all over the world. And his reach was truly immense. At his shrine at San Giovanni Rotondo, there is a wall of shelves filled with thousands of letters received by Padre Pio—in a single year. 

Nearly as many people recall unforgettable personal encounters with the gruff Capuchin saint of San Giovanni Rotondo, either in the flesh, or in the spirit. It is said that he heard about five million confessions over the course of his priesthood. And there are numerous miracle stories. One such story that I heard in person is that of Philadelphia native Frank Tenaglia (1965-2019) who credited Padre Pio with healing him of a grave childhood illness—a miracle which allowed him to praise God with his amazing voice for many years. 

Though there are myriad books about Padre Pio's extraordinary life, very few of these are accessible to younger readers. This has now changed with the release of Wounds of Love: The Story of Saint Padre Pio by Phillip Campbell. I have been waiting for a book like this for years. It’s no easy task to condense the long and eventful life of someone like Padre Pio into the historical fiction format which appeals to young readers, but Phillip Campbell has done a masterful job. His focus on the early life of St. Pio is pitch-perfect. While most readers think of Padre Pio as a rather grumpy elderly man, Campbell’s presentation spends more time introducing readers to the young Francesco Forgione growing in grace and holiness in the bosom of a loving family.  

Wounds of Love includes some of the most famous anecdotes associated with Padre Pio, including the well-known incident reported by General Nathan F. Twining of a Capuchin monk appearing in the sky to thwart Allied bombing runs on San Giovanni Rotondo during World War II. Campbell also relates a few more obscure ones, including one that I had never heard before, despite having read several books on Padre Pio in the past. In Chapter 12, the novel delves into the slanders aimed at Padre Pio by those within the Church in the early 1960s. In an effort to gather evidence against him, someone apparently wiretapped his confessional. Originally, I thought that this outrageous story belonged more to the “fiction” than to the “historical” side of the narrative. But upon further research, I discovered that this inconceivably awful tale was true—and that Padre Pio actually did discover the microphone himself and cut out the wire with a penknife! 

In sum, Wounds of Love is a fantastic book and I heartily recommend it to readers of all ages. If you need additional proof of how the story draws you in, I gave it to my 17-year old son to read and he polished it off in about a week. What's more, he immediately moved on to a more in-depth biography of Padre Pio that we have on our bookshelves. 

Mission accomplished, Mr. Campbell!


Ceil said...

I just purchased it for my grandchildren.

and myself.

c. puglisi

Florentius said...

Great! Hope they (and you) enjoy it!