Francesco Forgione, more commonly known as Padre Pio, summarized his words of encouragement to all with his mantra: pray, hope and don’t worry.
“How could these simple words speak to us about a great truth regarding our faith?” Msgr. Steven Aguggia asked the congregation seated in the crowded pews at St. Pancras in Glendale, Sept. 24. “These were words that Padre Pio often used when he gave advice to people who came to him with their problems.”
The annual Mass and neighborhood procession sponsored by the Padre Pio Prayer Group, was held in Italian and English. Auxiliary Bishop Raymond Chappetto was the main celebrant. He was joined by Fathers Francis Hughes, pastor; Fred Marano, pastor, SS. Simon and Jude, Gravesend; Anthony Sansone, pastor, Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Ridgewood; and Msgrs. Aguggia, judicial vicar; and James Kelly, St. Brigid, Bushwick.
For those who celebrated on that Sunday afternoon, the devotion to the saint from Pietrelcina concluded with a possible solution to Msgr. Aguggia’s question: experiencing the fundamental elements of prayer surrounding the Eucharist and the hope that arises from surrendering control over to the Heavenly Father.
“This is really a celebration of faith because the people’s faith in Padre Pio is tremendous,” said Msgr. Aguggia, “but Padre Pio teaches us all to go to Jesus, the first thing, go to Jesus. (Padre Pio’s) love of the Eucharist and his love of hearing confessions and helping people to get close to Jesus. So they honor him for that and they bring him out to the streets so that we share our faith with everyone else around the neighborhood.”
The festivities began with a procession into the church with the Knights of Columbus leading the way, followed by banners carried by parishioner-based prayer groups such as Our Lady of Hope, Our Lady of Fatima, Blue Army and Padre Pio.
One of the event organizers and members from the namesake prayer group recalled why she joined the community.
“Padre Pio means everything to me,” said Maria Bommarito, a parishioner at Sacred Heart, East Glendale. “This is what we do. It’s part of our culture, it’s part of our faith, it’s part of our life.”
Whether it was the row of young flower girls offering orange or yellow sunflowers to Padre Pio’s statue adorned with colorful rows of flowers or the three young boys donning the same brown friar habit with their chords and sandals, the Italian culture’s devotion to the saint was evident.
As the Mass ended with the Italian voices from the choir, the street procession was underway. The 104th precinct led the way as the faithful took to the streets.
With frequent stops along Myrtle Ave. to allow the trumpets and saxophone to play, the seven men who volunteered to hold the saint’s statue were greeted with “Viva Padre Pio” or the tossing of rose petals.
One of the stops included the front porch of Sally Marinaro’s house.
“It’s an annual tradition my mom does, she looks forward to this,” said Marinaro.
“She has great faith in Padre Pio that he helps us in the community. He’s given me strength, he’s given me hope and faith. We’ll always look forward to it for years to come.”
Amongst Padre Pio’s extraordinary spiritual gifts that included the gift of healing, and the ability to read hearts and see angelic beings in form, it was the fragrance that emanated from his wounds which frequently announced his invisible presence.
According to a devotional website dedicated to the saint, when one of his friends questioned him about his gifts, the saint replied that they were as much a mystery to himself.
Embracing the likes of the same seeds of humility was why one of the last-minute attendees joined the procession along 67th Pl.
“I’m Catholic, born and raised in Italy,” said Angela Gambino, “so I believe in Padre Pio.”
Gambino was on her way home after doing errands when she saw the crowds. Even though she felt she wasn’t properly dressed in her casual clothes, she joined the line of march. She prayed for the good health of her niece and nephew.
At the final stop at the FDNY station on Myrtle Ave., Bishop Chappetto greeted firefighters then led the marchers back to St. Pancras.
Padre Pio’s Faithfulness
While Padre Pio’s burial site in Italy attracts approximately 8 million pilgrims annually, the hundreds gathered in Queens to honor their beloved saint still witness to his powerful prayer intercessions.
“I am devout to Padre Pio whose been following me since I was a little child, protecting me,” said Marisol Caamano, a parishioner at Resurrection-Ascension, Rego Park. She has attended the celebration for more than five years with her daughter and mother, who hold a special place in her intercessory prayers.
“When I have needed his intercession, I find his image. When my mom had open-heart surgery and someone in the hospital helped me, behind her was an image of Padre Pio. I asked if she was devout and she said ‘no it was someone else’s desk.’ I just happened to cross your path when you needed me.
“And the same when I gave birth to my daughter, I was placed in the hospital, my doctor wasn’t available and they sat me on someone’s cubicle and the image of the saint was there as if telling me not to worry. I received a doctor who was absolutely wonderful and patient.
“So he’s present to remind us of the Lord’s presence in our lives because it’s ultimately about our Lord, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”