During the Second World War the Americans had an airbase in Bari, about seventy-five miles from San Giovanni Rotondo, a village in Southern Italy that houses Capuchin friary. According to US intelligence, the Germans had a munitions facility in the hills nearby; an officer was assigned the job of bombing it. As the planes neared San Giovanni, the officer saw in the sky before him the figure of a monk waving him back.
Dumbfounded by this spectacle, the officer ordered the planes to turn back. When the war ended, he went to the friary and met the monk who had appeared in the sky. His name was Padre Pio (1887 – 1968).On a trip to San Giovanni Rotondo in 1979, I was unable to learn the officer’s name or any details confirming this fantastic story. According to Father Joseph Pius Martin, an American friar in San Giovanni, the pilot lives in Florida – the only additional lead I obtained.
Stories like the flyer’s are legion. The work of sorting out fact from fiction is still underway. Many incredible claims about Padre Pio are well-documented; but many are based on hearsay, part of the folklore growing around the monk. One extraordinary thing about Padre Pio was his ability to induce belief in the extraordinary. He had a gift for catapulting people into a fairyland of living mythic powers. In Padre Pio’s world, ideas of fantasy and creatures of mythology come to life: Madonnas, guardian angels, shapeshifting demons, bilocation, magical cures, time-travel, and a good deal more. However you rate the literal truth of particular claims, his story is bound to disturb our routine picture of what is possible. Around the Padre, the incredible became credible, the impossible became actual.
And yet, no matter how extraordinary the feats of Padre Pio, he was a human being. I assume therefore that his “miraculous” powers are latent powers of all human beings. I underscore this with reason. Some people will resist the claims about Pio because they might see them as meant to ratify church dogma. (The truth is that miracles have been used for propaganda.) However, while I grant that you cannot fully understand Padre Pio’s miracles apart from the symbols and archetypes of his Christian world, I also think they transcend that world and point to a universal human potential. Moreover, comparable phenomena from other traditions bear this out, the best contemporary example being the case of Sai Baba.1
These phenomena point to possibilities rejected by the custodians of the intellectual and moral establishment: by scientific materialists, who make up the rank and file of academia, and by liberal and fundamentalist Christians, who wear their own conceptual blinkers. Since, however, a critical review of evidence is impossible here, I will restrict myself to trying to give a rough idea of the man, the range of his unusual powers, and to noting their possible implications for human evolution.