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Remembering Padre Pio, the revered priest and mystic


For followers of Padre Pio (1887-1968), May is an important month. St. Pio of Pietrelcina was born on May 25 and was beatified on May 2, 1999, then canonized in one of the largest ceremonies in history by Pope John Paul II on June 16, 2002. 

He is revered as a priest and mystic, who wrote in his letters he experienced supernatural phenomena including stigmata, marks on the skin corresponding to Jesus’ wounds when he was crucified.

Elia Stelluto in his workshop, surrounded by his numerous photos of Padre Pio.

Elia Stelluto was born in San Giovanni Rotondo in 1935 and first met Pio the capuchin friar during World War II, when he was 7. There was no school during the war, and Elia wandered the streets in search of food in the isolated mountaintop village where he lived. 

One day Padre Pio invited young Elia and his friends to the convent in San Giovanni Rotondo. In exchange for nourishment, Stelluto learned to be an altar boy for Padre Pio. Stelluto credits Padre Pio with being the “father I didn’t have.”

He had the unique privilege to take photographs of St. Pio daily his entire life. He had the keys to come and go as he pleased. He even recorded the last Mass celebrated by St. Pio as well as his last day on earth.

A photograph Stelluto took as a boy reveals the priest’s stigmata wounds.

An estimated 7 million pilgrims visit the Padre Pio Shrine every year. 

In February, my cousin Simona Nobilio and I journeyed up the mountainside to meet Stelluto. It is not an easy location to reach. Stelluto, almost 90, is still vibrant and articulate. With my cousin as translator, surrounded by private Padre Pio photos and camera equipment, he told stories about his career, and about St. Pio.

Stelluto shot thousands of photos revealing daily life and spirituality of the saint as they travelled the world together. It was a journey that had begun when he was a teenager, and took a now-famous photo of Padre Pio’s ungloved stigmata. A professor of young Elia had requested it. There was also an incentive of 5,000 lira – the equivalent of just a few dollars, which he declined.

As an altar boy witnessing the stigmata daily at Mass, he recalls how, after they entered the sacristy, Padre Pio would take off his gloves and with his bare blood-stained hands, one at a time, invite the altar boys for a blessing.

Stelluto watched professionals like Dr. Guglielmo Sanguinetti be transformed by Padre Pio and become his main collaborators in the construction of a hospital in the mountaintop village.

Stelluto is the only living historian and photographer of Padre Pio. He walked with a saint for almost 60 years. Spending time with him was a humbling experience.

Barbara Ann Zippi

Associate Publisher

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