We concluded that much of his love towards children came from his great love relationship with the Child Jesus, the Santo Bambino. And while his life story is filled with experiences he had with Our Lord Jesus and our beautiful Mother Mary, the Angels and Saints, through apparitions Padre Pio had from an early age, we believe he also had holy encounters with the Santo Bambino, the Holy Child Jesus. There are no great stories, or little tidbits which we can draw upon. Fr. Alessio has gone to the Father, to be with Padre Pio as has Fr. Joseph Pio, so we can't pick their brains the way we did when they were alive. There's not much written about Padre Pio and the Santo Bambino. But for him to have such a devotion to the Child Jesus, we knew there had to be a time when he had a personal encounter with Him.
So on our last trip there, we asked Fr. Ermelindo, who has taken over as the chaplain for English-speaking groups, about an apparition of the Baby Jesus to Padre Pio, which took place at Christmas time. We had heard of it, but have never been able to track it down. So, while we led this pilgrimage to France and Italy, this last summer, we decided to see if dear Fr. Ermelindo knew anything about it. We were in the English-speaking office at the Church of Our Lady of Grace in San Giovanni Rotondo, and we posed the question of the Santo Bambino appearing to Padre Pio, to Father. To our surprise, he called out to Robert, the American volunteer, whom we have known for more years than we would like to say. Robert opened the desk drawer and pulled out a little printed card. On one side was a drawing of Padre Pio holding the Baby Jesus, depicting the apparition Padre Pio had of the Santo Bambino, and on the other side were the details of the account.
The only eyewitness to the apparition we're about to share with you was Lucia Ladanza, who was truly a spiritual child of Padre Pio. She knew him from the time she was a child in Pietrelcina. He taught her and other spiritual children there. He instructed her in the catechism, hymns and pious practices. Padre Pio loved her dearly, but she did manage to upset him. She had to be around him all the time. While he understood that her reasoning was that she wanted to absorb his spirituality, and the more she could be with him, the closer she felt to Our Lord, it could become a bit much at times.
To be honest, it may have been part of the Lord's plan for Padre Pio to go back home for the express purpose of counseling and giving spiritual direction to Lucia Ladanza, and/or possibly some others in the town. Padre Pio never revealed why the Lord continually sent him back to Pietrelcina. It seemed that Padre Pio knew, but he would never divulge the reason. The closest anyone came to getting him to say anything about it was when a priest, Padre Agostino of San Marco in Lamis, asked him about it. Padre Pio replied, 'I can't tell you the reason the Lord wanted me back in Pietrelcina, Father. I would lack charity.'
However, when Padre Pio was transferred to San Giovanni Rotondo, he told Lucia he would not return home again. She would have to come to San Giovanni Rotondo for her spiritual direction. It was a great struggle for her, and she had to sacrifice much to go to San Giovanni Rotondo, but she often came to this little town on the Gargano to ask for and receive advice and direction from Padre Pio for her spiritual life. It may have been because of her great devotion to Padre Pio that she was given the gift we are about to share with you now.
She was even willing to sacrifice not being with her family at Christmas, to be with Padre Pio. On 24 December 1922, Lucia felt an inner calling to spend the vigil of Christmas close to Padre Pio. She made the trip from Pietrelcina to San Giovanni Rotondo in the bitter cold. Remember, San Giovanni Rotondo is way up in the mountains, and it gets very cold there in the winter. But Lucia wanted to be there, and so she made the trip. There were not many people there that night, but it was still early. We're sure that the church filled up for Midnight Mass. Add to the fact that it was so cold, the friars brought a brazier into the sacristy. Next to the brazier with three other women, Lucia waited for midnight to come so they could attend the Mass that Padre Pio would celebrate. They were praying the Rosary. Either the heat from the brazier or Divine Intervention, caused the three women to doze off, while Lucia continued to recite the Rosary.
She heard a noise and looked in the direction from which it came. From the internal stairway of the sacristy, she saw Padre Pio come down and stop near the window. All of a sudden, the entire room lit up. In a burst of heavenly light, there appeared the Child Jesus, resting in the arms of Padre Pio, whose face turned radiant. The scene reminded her of the biblical account of Moses when he came down from the mountain of God. If you recall Moses' face was glowing from having been in the presence of God. Padre Pio was having the same experience. He looked at the Child Jesus, Who returned his look with great love, and great intensity. This lasted only a few moments. But those few moments seemed to Lucia to last an eternity. She was so excited she thought her heart would burst. Padre Pio seemed to her to be in ecstasy with his Lord, this Child Jesus.
As quickly as it had appeared, the light dimmed until finally, it went out. Padre Pio was standing there alone. It seemed, in the aftermath of the brilliant light which had filled the room, as if he was standing in the dark, when actually there was the dim light of one bulb lighting the stairway. He came out of his reverie. He glanced over at Lucia. She had a look of astonishment on her face. Padre Pio realized that Lucia had seen what had happened. He asked her, 'Lucia, what did you see?'
Lucia hesitated in answering, for fear of upsetting Padre Pio. In her mind's eye, she could see him making her leave his presence. She didn't want to do that. However, she answered truthfully, 'Padre I saw everything.' He knew what her answer was going to be before she said it. He looked at her very sternly. Then he admonished her severely: 'Don't say anything to anyone or else I will wring your neck like a chicken.'
She was shocked and more than a little frightened, until she saw the glint of humor in his eyes. He was being firm, but the two of them were able to enjoy a little joke. We would like to say that she kept the secret that she had with Padre Pio all her life, and brought it with her to her grave. But then, we would not have heard the story.
While we don't know for sure; the truth is probably that she didn't even keep it a secret until even New Year's Day. She may have been out on the street the very next day telling the whole of San Giovanni Rotondo, and then all of Pietrelcina about the special apparition she shared with Padre Pio on the night before Christmas. However, we're pretty sure that from that time on.
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