In 2021, the Municipality of Pietrelcina, hometown of Padre Pio, unveiled a new statue of its patron saint. The breathtaking artwork was remarkable in its own right, but even more so was its dedication. The installation marked the first time an Italian town had dedicated a plaza to “the people of the United States of America.”
The Pio Foundation reports that the statue was commissioned specifically to pay tribute to the role of the U.S. in the life of St. Pio Pietrelcina. The statue was installed on September 23, 2021, on the 53rd anniversary of Padre Pio’s death. It’s dedication was held just a year before Pietrelcina celebrated the 20th anniversary of Padre Pio’s canonization by Pope St. John Paul II.
Padre Pio never visited America. He did, however, have some contact with American GIs during World War II, and it was some of these who were the first to promote Padre Pio’s legacy in the United States. Still, even with limited contact, the new world is no less important to his story.
St. Pio’s father
Padre Pio’s father, Grazio Forgione, was one of the estimated 3.2 million Italians who ventured to the New World to seek better opportunities for employment in the early 20th Century. According to one biography of the saint, Grazio made the voyage back and forth from America to Italy many times over the course of several years to finance Padre Pio’s education.
At the statue’s unveiling ceremony Luciano Lamonarca, Founder and President of the Saint Pio Foundation, noted that without the income Grazio made in America, there may have been no Padre Pio. Lamonarca said:
“[The statue] was made in recognition and gratitude to the people of the United States of America for giving the opportunity to Grazio Forgione, Padre Pio’s father, to work in America, so that he could work honestly, make money, and send back to Padre Pio to become a priest. Without the efforts and sacrifice of this father … probably we would not have a Padre Pio.” Lamonarca added, “I am proud, I am privileged, but I am humbled to imagine what it would be for this town to become a beacon of life through this work.”
I Embrace You
The statue of Padre Pio, titled I Embrace You, was created by the world renowned sculptor Timothy Schmalz. It features a crucifix placed high above the saint. From the wounded hands of Christ, blood swirls downward through the stigmatic palms of St. Pio, and further down to create a protective layer around the United States.
The statue is life-sized, but 100 smaller replicas were created as gifts for supporters of the project. One of these was presented to Pope Francis, who noted that his own father, Mario Jose Bergoglio, immigrated to Argentina for the same purpose. The pontiff was reportedly pleased that the statue honored the millions of nameless Italian fathers who made the same sacrifice for their children’s advancement.
The statue is firmly planted on a plaza overlooking Pietrelcina, but it may soon be coming to a parish near you. In 2022, on the 20th anniversary of St. Pio Pietrelcina’s canonization, the Pio Foundation will make available life-sized replicas of I Embrace You to archdioceses, dioceses, and parishes of America. Thirteen-inch replicas are now available for purchase at the Pio Foundation.