Beyond San Giovanni Rotondo: Padre Pio still speaks to the world

By Anne Cohen and Sarah Laing

The entrance of Tele Radio Padre Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo. | Photo by Anne Cohen.

The entrance of Tele Radio Padre Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo. | Photo by Anne Cohen.

Padre Pio may be long dead, but his voice lives on. Broadcasting from the house that once belonged to the controversial saint’s brother, is Tele Radio Padre Pio, whose content revolves solely around propagating the legacy of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina.

Founded 10 years ago as a service for local Capuchin monks, the station has expanded from a radio station into a digital cable channel that broadcasts 24 hours a day, on four continents: Europe, South America, North America and Australia. All Pio, all the time. According to a station employee, the channel had five million viewers in 2005, and that number has only grown since. More recent statistics are not available. According to the station, the viewers are young and old, and often include those who are sick and can’t make it to mass.

Padre Pio, born Francesco Forgione, was a Capuchin priest who claimed to have received the stigmata in the years preceding World War I. He bore the marks for 50 years before his death in 1968, at the age of 81. He was revered as a saint during his lifetime, a modern day Christ figure who could heal the sick and battle the devil in his dreams. His message was one of piety, humility and happiness, values which he expressed in one of his most famous sayings: “Pray, hope and don’t worry.” After a long and rocky relationship with the Vatican, which didn’t always endorse the controversial figure, Padre Pio was canonized on September 23, 2002.

Tele Radio Padre Pio’s programming content ranges from archived interviews and speeches of the saint himself, to testimonies by modern pilgrims. The majority of air time is taken up by the several daily masses, transmitted live from the Basilica where Pio’s body lies. During our visit, the studio was occupied by teenagers sharing their experience at World Youth Day in Madrid this past August.

Tele Radio Padre Pio gets funded by the local order of Capuchin monks, although donations are an important part of their budget.

A technician works the soundboard at Tele Radio Padre Pio. | Photo by Anne Cohen.

A technician works the soundboard at Tele Radio Padre Pio. | Photo by Anne Cohen.

The station employs nine full time journalists, who don’t report so much as coordinate the Padre Pio broadcast machine. They are all believers, down to the board technician who served as an altar boy when Pio was alive. “It’s hard to do so without having an understanding. If you didn’t believe, you’d get very bored,” said Paola Russo, a member of the editorial staff.

The building itself is a tribute to Padre Pio. The walls boast several portraits of the saint, in various shades of orange and yellow, painted by Antonio Ciccone, a local artist. Though the message is of simplicity and piety, the facilities are sleek and modern, following a refurbishment in 2005; the rooms are airy and minimalist, in contrast with the gilded Basilica atop the hill.

The station is not only a media outlet, it is also an archive. Like the “morgues” of traditional newspapers, the building houses an underground library, filled with books written about Padre Pio and scrapbooks containing what they claim to be everything ever published about the saint. According to the librarian, Antonio Villani, devotees even send clippings from their local press. Villani opened one of the scrapbooks, revealing the first article ever written about Pio in 1919, which notably referred to him as a saint.

Ninety-three years later, the cult has only grown, and the Padre Pio message still gets out, one broadcast at a time.

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