Padre Pio is a saint – but he has a reputation as having been a tough priest who spent all his time telling people how they had sinned. But a lesser known fact is that Padre Pio pronounced Paolina, who was a local woman in San Giovanni Rotondo, to be such a good person that she had no faults in her soul. In other words, she was fit for heaven. One Lent, the saintly Paolina suddenly became seriously ill with pneumonia. It was 1925: and the fact that there was no penicillin available meant that Paolina’s infection was life-threatening.
The doctors despaired and said that Paolina would die soon.
Paolina’s husband and their five kids went to Padre Pio. Two of Paolina’s children wept and tugged at Padre Pio’s brown habit. He was aggrieved by the children’s sorrow. He promised to pray for their mother – and for them – and he said, “tell Paolina to have no fear - since she will be resurrected with Our Lord.”
On Good Friday, however, Paolina fell into a coma. This made people question what Padre Pio had said – was he really serious when he said that she would be resurrected with Our Lord?
Her relatives started making funeral arrangements for Paolina – they saw no hope of her waking from the coma. And there was no possibility of medical intervention. Paolina was a third order Franciscan, and so they made plans to bury her in the brown habit of St Francis.
Some of her relatives ran to Padre Pio and asked him if there was any chance of a miracle.
Padre Pio left them and went to celebrate the Easter Vigil.* When Padre Pio sang the Gloria and the peel of bells announced Christ’s resurrection, Padre Pio’s voice choked with sobbing and his eyes brimmed with tears. At the very instant that Christ was proclaimed resurrected from the dead, Paolina resuscitated.* Without anyone lifting a finger to help her, she rose, knelt down and prayed the Creed three times. When asked what had happened to her after she departed this life, Paolina answered, “I travelled up and up, until I entered into a great light, then I came back.”
We may note that the ‘great light’ that Paolina saw was a heavenly glow. But doesn’t it seem mysterious that this wife and mother, who had a flawless soul, was struck with sickness and went into a coma before she was ‘resuscitated’? Why would someone with such goodness need to be purified by physical agony? What we do know is that she suffered her painful trials during Lent – and that she suffered simultaneously with Our Lord. Paolina fell into a coma on Good Friday, when Our Lord’s scalp was punctured with thorns, and when he hung from the cross. When Our Lord’s resurrection was announced by the bells in the church, Paolina woke from her unconsciousness. From that time on, she was well.
* This miracle is listed in the collections of miracles attributed to Padre Pio for his canonisation process. It has it that Paolina recovered from her coma on Holy Saturday Morning.
* On Holy Saturday morning the Gloria bells sounded during the Easter Vigil because at that time the Vigil was celebrated on the Saturday morning. This was before Pope Pius XII’s reforms of the Holy Week and Easter liturgies.