When Kiwis look at their calendars for September 23, they will see many things scheduled, depending on their interests — a big race meeting in Hastings, a Mitre 10 Cup clash between Wellington and Waikato and an NRL preliminary final.
Hopefully many Kiwis will have scribbled on their calendars, “remember to vote” in the General Election and will have found out where the most conveniently placed polling booth is. Turnout can be a decisive factor in the ultimate outcome of an election.
Catholics looking at their Columban calendars will see a feast marked on September 23 — that of St Pius of Pietrelcina, better known as Padre Pio. Now at first glance, it might be wondered what Padre Pio and politics have to do with each other. Quite a lot as it turns out.
An article by John Allen on the Crux website in July showed just how keenly the saint took an interest in politics.
“Padre Pio famously almost never left his friary at San Giovanni Rotondo, but among the rare occasions when he did was to vote for the Christian Democrats, which for most of the 1940s, 50s and 60s, were the conservative bulwark against a socialist/communist conquest of Italy,” Allen noted.
“Make no mistake, Padre Pio was serious about politics,” Allen continued. “He managed to get the Christian Democrats elected in Foggia throughout his life, when in the past the province had voted for liberal parties.”
On one occasion, a local city council travelled to meet the future saint to ask him how to break a mayoral candidate deadlock. Padre Pio reportedly walked into the room and told one candidate to stand aside because his rival was a doctor and director of the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza, a hospital the future saint founded.
Padre Pio’s choice became mayor.
Allen noted such actions were not in line with the dictum of Pope Francis many years later that priests should stay out of politics.
But the point of building the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza in the first place, the Crux article continued, was to provide the same high-quality medical care available to rich Italians to the poor.
American journalist Barbara Ward captured that side of Padre Pio’s vision, Allen noted.
“Nine tenths of the people who came to Padre Pio were in unrelieved poverty.
“Poverty was the root of so many neglected diseases, lifelong ill health, crippling blindness, infirmities and miseries,” she wrote.
“That entire tragic load had to be borne by him day after day, from the moment he entered the church at dawn until the last penitents went on their way.
“Padre Pio was the last man in the world to let his friends forget that Our Lord not only preached to souls, but also healed bodies and promised heaven to those who feed the hungry and clothe the naked.
“If there was to be medical care, the hospital needed to be in San Giovanni Rotondo.”
Last year, Pope Francis praised St Padre Pio as a key example of someone who has given his entire life in the service of God’s mercy.
The Holy Father said there is only one reason he was able to do so: prayer. The only reason Padre Pio was never tired of welcoming and listening to people who came to him, Francis said, is because “he was always attached to the source: He was continuously quenched by Jesus crucified, and so became a channel of mercy”.
“In this way, his small drop became a great river of mercy, which irrigated many dry hearts and created an oasis of life in many parts of the world.”
It should be noted that Padre Pio was also utterly opposed to abortion, describing it as both a homicide and a suicide — the suicide of the human race.
Whatever the result of the General Election, and whatever one thinks of Padre Pio’s political views, let us ask his intercession for New Zealand, so that it may be a merciful nation and still claim in one form or other to be truly deserving of the title “God’s Own Country.”