Yesterday was St. Patrick's Day, a holiday celebrated by Christians who venerate Saint Patrick for his work, and celebrated by non-Christians who want to honor Irish culture and heritage... or who just want an excuse to get drunk.
What was Pope Francis doing yesterday on St. Patrick's Day? Well, he was not drinking green beer, I can tell you that.
Pope Francis spent the day in southern Italy. First, he was in the town of Pietrelcina, the birthplace of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, also known as Padre Pio. Then he visited the remains of Padre Pio and prayed for a while. You can see that below.
That is not really Padre Pio's face you see in that picture. That is a silicone mask put on his remains. His body was exhumed in 2008, 40 years after his death, so that it could be displayed in that climate-controlled glass case. I am sure that was a fun restoration effort.
So who is Padre Pio? Well, he lived from 1887 to 1968. Among his claims to fame are being one of the most famous 20th century bearers of stigmata, wounds that appear on people in the same places where Christ's hands and feet were nailed to the cross. It has since been revealed though that Pio likely caused the stigmata himself using carbolic acid.
He was also known to have "physical" fights with Satan and his demons. Pio wrote letters to his superiors about these fights. In one of these letters from 1912, he wrote:
“The Devil does not want to lose this battle. He takes on many forms. For several days now, he has appeared with his brothers who are armed with batons and pieces of iron. One of the difficulties is that they appear in many disguises. There were several times when they threw me out of my bed and dragged me out of my bedroom."
In a "fight" in 1964 some fellow monks heard Pio call out from his room and when they found him he was on the floor with a deep gash in his forehead and scratches elsewhere on his body. He told the monks, "The Devil tried to scratch out my eyes."
With the stigmata and the fights with demons, Pio was at odds with the Vatican and his superiors at various points of his clerical career. He proved extremely popular with the faithful masses however, and after his death he was eventually beatified and canonized as a saint by Pope John Paul II in 2002.
Pio also reportedly "cured" a little girl's blindness in 1947. Of course, when you look deeper into the story, it turns out that the girl actually started seeing before she arrived at Pio's monastery. So Pio doing the sign of the cross over her eyes does not really mean anything. Her eyes physically remained unchanged after her time with Pio and she was already starting to see before she met him. That is a very unconvincing miracle.
Padre Pio really sounds like someone who at best suffered from some pretty severe delusional episodes (the demon fighting) and at worst was a deliberate charlatan (if he did indeed fake the stigmata with acid). Of course, this is all par for the course with the Catholic Church. They are, in fact, just a racket.
So if you ask me, Pope Francis would have been much better off kicking back with some Guinness and celebrating St. Patrick's Day the traditional way, and not with the corpse of some loony priest.