In 1959, Padre Pio’s health went downhill and in April of that year, he became gravely ill. He could not get out of bed, and in the following months, he fell into even worse health. Padre Pio had a history of battling lung ailments. As a young seminarian, not long after taking his permanent vows, he was hit with high fevers and chronic bronchitis that was feared to be TB.
In June 1959, his doctors gathered around him, to examine him and make a prognosis. Dr Pontoni, Dr Gasbarrini, Dr Valdoni and Dr Toniolo confirmed the worst: Padre Pio only had a few months to live – he was perishing because of a malignant tumour that had enmeshed itself in his lung.
Enter Fr Mario Mason, a Jesuit priest who was traveling around Italy, bringing a statue of Our Lady of Fatima from town to town.
On August 5th, Fr Mason was in San Giovanni Rotondo. All night long, the local people came to pray before the statue of Our Lady, asking that Padre Pio’s tumour would miraculously disappear. The next morning at 10 am, the helicopter pilot who transported the statue of Our Lady, the driver, some missionaries and Fr Mason went to see Padre Pio in his cell.
They found him lying in bed, perspiring heavily and wheezing. With great difficulty Padre Pio whispered, “God bless you for all the good you are doing for the Church and for Italy. Tell the people to practice all the good things that Our Lady is inspiring them to do.”
Padre Pio was carried out on a stretcher and placed in front of the statue of Our Lady of Fatima. After praying for a few minutes, he was taken back to his cell.
Soon it was time for Fr Mason to leave – and they flew away in the helicopter. But when they were some distance away, Fr Mason had a strong impulse to turn back, he felt as though Padre Pio was calling him back and he said to the pilot, “fly over the monastery”. When they flew over Padre Pio’s cell, they remained in the air for some minutes. On hearing the whirring of the helicopter, Padre Pio prayed this prayer, “Holy Mary, when you came to Italy, you confined me to my bed with these illnesses. Now, that you are going, are you going to leave me like this?”
After uttering these words, his body shook mightily, a sight that disturbed the monks who were caring for him, who thought that he was about to die. In a matter of seconds, Padre Pio felt better. He started breathing regularly and without difficulty. His cheeks no longer had a deathly white pallor, but a normal colour had returned. He said that he was no longer in pain, but felt strong and was able to get out of bed. The doctors rushed to see him, and they examined him thoroughly. They found not a hint of the hideous cancerous growth.
Merely two days later, Padre Pio was able to offer Holy Mass again, to hear confession and to meet with pilgrims.