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Firsthand account of Padre Pio thrills St. Louisans

A joyful Adolfo Affatato tells of time spent with Italian saint

Adolfo Affatato spoke about his relationship with Padre Pio to a gathering at St. Ambrose Church on the Hill May 2. Affatato speaks about Padre Pio around the world with the objective to “put into your heart the image of this great saint forever alive in this great Church.”
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston
With enthusiasm and an infectious smile, Adolfo Affatato approached the microphone at St. Ambrose Church in the Hill neighborhood of south St. Louis.

“Good morning. I don’t speak English,” he said in English looking out at a full church on a Thursday morning.

He did what he could in an opening statement, addressing the crowd as “my dear friends, my dear brothers and sisters,” and explaining that it was his pleasure to share his memories of 15 years as a spiritual friend of Padre Pio, who was beatified 20 years ago on the same day, May 2. St. Pio of Pietrelcina was a beloved Capuchin Franciscan priest from Italy who died in 1969 at age 81. More than 100,000 people attended his funeral.

“I finish my English,” Affatato said, eliciting laughter and turning to St. Richard parishioner Giovanna Leopardi, who volunteered as his interpreter during his visit to St. Louis. Affatato could hardly wait to communicate that that he had no words — in Italian or English — to describe the joy he has in sharing the words of Padre Pio in both languages.

Affatato’s visit (along with a relic, a glove worn by the saint) to three cities in the United States included stops at six churches in St. Louis. It was arranged by Steve and Lynne Pfaff of Florida who had visited Padre Pio’s shrine at his hometown in Italy in 2013 and by chance were helped by Affatato at a train station when seeking directions. Despite his limited English and their lack of knowledge of Italian, he led them to the right train to Rome.

Affatato sat across from them on the train, and they got to know him through the help of a young man who served as a translator. Eventually, Affatato asked the couple if they’d help him get his book, “Padre Pio and I: Memoirs of a Spiritual Son,” published in English. Despite knowing nothing about the publishing business, the Pfaffs fulfilled the request.

The appearances by Affatato are free of charge, and he takes no fee for speaking. Profits from the sale of his book are donated to charities. The objective, he said, is to “put into your heart the image of this great saint forever alive in this great Church.”

He called saints “a masterpiece” of all the works of God.

Affatato told several stories of being with Padre Pio, including how the priest dragged his feet when he walked because his shoulder had the weight of the cross of Jesus on it. Affatato met him in 1953 when he went to the church in San Giovanni Rotondo and heard Padre Pio recite the Prayer of St. Alphonsus to the Virgin. Padre Pio, never having met and having no connection to Affatato, called out his name and told Affatato, “I have been waiting many years for you.”

Many times afterward Affatato returned to learn more about God from the saint.

Affatato told the gathering at St. Ambrose of Padre Pio’s connection with Mary and his work as a confessor.

Among the people who came to St. Ambrose was Bill Masterson of Incarnate Word Parish in Chesterfield. He praised Affatato for “promoting the power of prayer, which we all sorely need in the United States and around the world.”

Anita Stewart of Assumption Parish in O’Fallon, attending with her sister Lisa Serino, said she just recently learned about Padre Pio. “When would we ever get a chance to see someone who knew a saint?” Stewart asked. “Adolfo had beautiful words. What he said was beyond humbling. It’s just a lovely reminder of God.”

Carol Cullen purchased a book that she’ll read to her elderly mother. Cullen was inspired by Affatato, calling him “so passionate.”

Rich Hanneken of St. Ambrose Parish said he took away a couple nuggets of wisdom from Affatato — that Mary is the path to speak to the heart of God and that miracles are earned. They don’t just happen and can’t be bought.

Affatato said he knew a bit about St. Louis — home to St. Rose Philippine Duchesne and Charles Lindbergh. After the talk, Steve and Lynne Pfaff said they visit the city often to see their daughter and her family. Steve Pfaff said he was pleased to see younger people in attendance and that St. Louis is a perfect place for the visit, “living up to its name as the Rome of the West.”

Whitney Schultz, the Pfaffs’ daughter, said that Affatato “has a joy about him that is contagious. You can feel his love for Padre Pio and God in his heart, and he spreads that to everyone.”

Julie Kauffman from Assumption Parish venerated a relic of Padre Pio held by Deacon Joseph Fragale. The relic was a glove the saint wore to cover the stigmata on his hands.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston
Affatato’s talk ended with advice he was given from Padre Pio: “My child, the love I place in your heart, give it as a gift to everyone next to you. This is the meaning of life.”

>> A saint’s life

Padre Pio
St. Pio of Pietrelcina was born on May 25, 1887 in Pietrelcina, Italy, and baptized Francesco Forgione. He first expressed his desire for priesthood at age 10. In order to pay for the preparatory education, his father, Grazio Forgione, emigrated to the United States in 1899, where he worked for several years.

The future saint entered the Capuchin order at age 15, taking the name Pio. He was ordained a priest in 1910 at the age of 23. He was assigned to the friary in San Giovanni Rotondo in central Italy, where he lived the rest of his life. Padre Pio, who bore the stigmata, was known as a mystic with miraculous powers of healing and knowledge. Stigmata is the term the Catholic Church uses to speak about the wounds an individual receives that correspond to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ. They can appear on the forehead, hands, wrists and feet.

His stigmata emerged during World War I, after Pope Benedict XV asked Christians to pray for an end to the conflict. Padre Pio had a vision in which Christ pierced his side. A few weeks later, on Sept. 20, 1918, Jesus again appeared to him, and he received the full stigmata. It remained with him until his death on Sept. 23, 1968. Pope John Paul II canonized him in 2002.

Padre Pio was especially admired by American GIs who met him during World War II.

>> Signs

Giovanna Leopardi was honored to volunteer as the interpreter during Adolfo Affatato’s visit to St. Louis to discuss his memories of Padre Pio.

Leopardi was familiar with Padre Pio, though he died before she was born. He was well known in Italy, she said, and she was told a friend of her grandmother had met him several times.

Padre Pio works in mysterious ways,” she said, noting that Affatato’s visit came at a time when she needed the spiritual comfort.

Leopardi showed a bit of emotion when Affatato related certain stories about the saint. “I feel the presence of Padre Pio throughout this, and that’s why I’m emotional,” Leopardi said. “He’s shown several signs to me.”

Affatato’s book, “Padre Pio and I,” is available for a limited time at Catholic Gifts and Books, 13397 Olive Blvd. in Chesterfield, for $10 each with profits donated to charity.

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