Padre Pio, (also known as Saint Pio of Pietrelcina) is Italy's most beloved saint. Born Francesco Forgione on May 25, 1887, in Pietrelcina, a town in the province of Benevento, in the Southern Italian region of Campania. By the time he was five years old, he had already made the decision to dedicate his entire life to God. As a youth, Francesco reported that he had experienced heavenly visions and ecstasies and by the age of 15 he had the Capuchin monastery in Sicily. He performed many miracles and wonders: healings, readings of hearts, prophecies, even bilocations. Padre Pio was 23 years-old when he was diagnosed with Tubuculosis. However the disease later completely disappeared leading many to speculate that this was Padre Pio's first miracle. There are still thousands of people who claim to be healed out of the blue after having prayed, thought or dreamed of him. The phenomenon of bilocation is one of the most remarkable gifts attributed to Padre Pio. His appearances on various of the continents are attested by numerous eye witnesses, who either saw him or smelled the odors characteristically associated with his presence, but he never moved from southern Italy. During the war, witnesses claimed Padre Pio had levitated over the church in his home town, where he had been praying, to stop American planes dropping bombs in the area. But it was in 1931 that Padre Pio gained overnight notoriety when bleeding wounds appeared on the palms of both his hands. The circular injuries, which weeped almost a cup of blood a day, were paralleled to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus and led to the former monk being identified as a stigmatist. The Capuchin friar became famous for being the first priest in history to bear the stigmata – that is, visible and bleeding wounds in his hands and feet. As his popularity continued to increase, locals in San Giovanni Rotondo gave him a position just below Virgin Mary. Padre Pio's stigmata had healed when he died on September 23, 1968, aged 81. In 2002, Pope John Paul II canonised Padre Pio and declared him a saint.
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