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Bishop Paul Sirba: Take some inspiration from St. Padre Pio

Of the many feast days we will celebrate in the month of September, one stands out for me: Sept. 23, the feast of Saint Pius of Pietrelcina, priest. “Padre Pio” was born Francesco Forgione in 1887 in the small town of Pietrelcina, Italy. He died on Sept. 23, 1968, at the age of 81. At the time, I remember reading about his death. He was alive in my lifetime, not always the case with canonized saints.

Bishop Paul Sirba
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People recall his humble beginnings, but probably are more aware of the extraordinary gifts God bestowed upon him. He was a Capuchin priest who had received the stigmata, the wounds of Christ on his body. He spent 50 years at the monastery of San Giovanni Rotondo, where he was much sought after as a spiritual director, confessor, and intercessor. He could read souls and foretell events in the prophetic sense.

Padre Pio loved Jesus in the Eucharist. He was devoted to prayer, the poor, the sick, and Our Blessed Mother. He lived the charisms associated with St. Francis of Assisi.

In addition to remembering stories of Padre Pio when I was young, I have had a connection to him ever since I came to serve in the Diocese of Duluth as your bishop. I received my call from the nuncio, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, on Sept. 23, 2009, his feast day, to become the ninth bishop of Duluth.

All of the feast days leading up to my ordination were associated with Carmelite saints. I was appointed on the feast of St. Teresa of Avila on Oct. 15. I was ordained on the feast of St. John of the Cross on Dec. 14. Though not known to many, I wrote my letter of acceptance of the Holy Father’s request on Oct. 1, the feast of St. Theresa of Lisieux, after verbally accepting the Pope’s appointment the day after I was asked.

Because of the string of Carmelite feast days, when I was visiting the Carmelite Sisters in Lake Elmo, Minnesota, I said they were praying “too hard” for me. Look at what God is doing to me. All the dates are Carmelite except Sept. 23. “Ah, Father,” Mother Rose said, “I can explain that for you. When this monastery was established, our foundress asked Padre Pio what we should name it.” He said, “Name it Our Lady of Divine Providence.” That explains the Sept. 23 connection.

Though I’m not much of a coffee drinker, the mug sitting on my desk has an often quoted line from Padre Pio. “Pray, hope, and don’t worry.” I offer his wisdom to all of the readers of The Northern Cross this September. As school begins, fall is in the air, and challenges face us, always remember our hope is fresh in Jesus Christ.

Padre Pio’s assurance: “Always have a firm and general proposition to serve God with all your heart and for the whole of your life. Don’t worry about tomorrow; think only of doing good today, and when tomorrow comes, it will be today and then it is time enough to think of it.

“We must imitate the people of God when they were in the desert. These people were severely forbidden to gather more manna than they needed for one day. Do not doubt that God will provide for the next day, and all the days of our pilgrimage.”

St. Padre Pio, pray for us!

Bishop Paul Sirba is the ninth bishop of Duluth.