Padre Pio died in 1968. Is he now a saint and, if not, when will he become a saint? How many others in the world at this time have the stigmata like Padre Pio had?
Stigmata is the plural of a Greek word meaning a mark, tattoo or brand to label one's slave or animal.
Religious stigmata are marks or wounds in the same location as Jesus' wounds: pierced feet and hands/wrists, as well the side and sometimes the crown of thorns. These bleed periodically and cause a great deal of suffering. The stigmata can be visible or invisible.
Some believe that Paul's statement to the Galatians: "I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body" (6.17) refers to his having the stigmata. Others think this refers rather to the suffering Paul bore gladly: stoning, lashing, imprisonment, etc. as he says to the Colossians: "I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's sufferings" (1.24).
There are no reported stigmatics prior to the 12th century. Some suggest that the onset of stigmata stemmed from an increasing emphasis on the passion of Christ with more graphic and detailed images of the suffering Christ during the 11th and 12th centuries.
While the Western Church stressed the suffering and death of Jesus, the Eastern Church focused on the Transfiguration and Christ as light of the world.
Until the last century, stigmatics were laymen and woman. Like the growth of popular non-sacramental devotions, stigmata highlighted the importance of non-clerical spirituality in the public imagination. Only in the last century have priests received the stigmata.
St. Padre Pio
Usually accompanying the stigmata are extraordinary gifts such as living for years on the Holy Eucharist without other food, levitation, bilocation, prophecy, perfumed odours from the wounds, healing of the sick, ability to read souls and read thoughts from a distance.
There are more than 300 authenticated stigmatics. More than 60 of these have been canonized, not because they had the stigmata but because of their holy lives.
St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), who received the stigmatic two years before his death, was the first recorded stigmatic. Padre Pio, who is perhaps the best known, was canonized June 16, 2002 by Pope John Paul II. He did not become a saint by being canonized but he was declared on that day to have been a saint during his earthly life.
Padre Pio received invisible stigmata in 1915 on Sept. 17, the same date as St. Francis of Assisi. In August 1918, he received visible stigmata on his side and the following month on his hands and feet. He bore these for 50 years until his death at 81. No medical cause was found.
Today, there are many claimants to the stigmata but they are not necessarily authentic. The following appear to be authentic. Venezuelan Maria Esperanza, received the stigmata in the 1990s as did an American priest, Father Bruze. A 30-year-old Croatian priest Zlatko Sudac received a cross on his forehead after the beatification of Padre Pio and the stigmata later on the feast of St. Francis.
Some postulate that stigmata are of hysterical origin linked to dietary disorders and self-mutilation, accidental or intended as a result of desiring to suffer as Jesus suffered.
However, the Church has clear guidelines for the authentication of stigmata. Those receiving the stigmata usually do so only after prolonged and severe illness or interior suffering which purify the soul and prepare it for sharing the intense suffering of the passion of Christ.
The wounds appear on both sides at the same time. They must be deep, bleed abundant fresh blood in union with Christ's sufferings, be lasting but not putrid, without pus or infection, without medical cause or healing.
To be considered authentic, stigmatics must live good moral lives and truly participate in the sufferings of Christ. If they fail to do so, either the stigmata were not genuine or they are not corresponding to God's grace. The latter is rare.
We can stand in awe before the tremendous gifts God bestows on stigmatics. But for most of us, trying to imitate Jesus in the ordinary is all we are asked to do. Each moment of each day lived in the presence of God, bringing Christ to the world through prayer and service to our neighbour is difficult enough but God's gift of grace sustains us.
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