Francesco Forgione was born in 1887 in the town of Pietrelcina, Campania. He had one older brother and three younger sisters. Two other siblings died in infancy. His parents were deeply religious peasant farmers. They were illiterate but memorized Bible stories which they narrated to their children. Throughout Francesco's childhood he suffered with a series of illnesses, some serious enough to keep him bedridden. His mother said that, as a child, he was able to see and speak with Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and his guardian angel, and assumed that everybody else could do the same.
By the time he was five, he had already decided to dedicate his life to God, but he worked as a shepherd until he was ten, when, after meeting to a Capuchin friar who was visiting the area, he decided that he would also like to join that order. His parents took him to a nearby community where they were told that he would be accepted, provided that he improved his education. His father travelled to America to earn the money for private tutors and Francesco finally joined the Capuchin order in Morcone at the age of 15. On January 22nd, he became a Franciscan friar and took the name Friar Pio.
Over the coming years, he continued to suffer with extreme illness. Also at this time, rumours began to circulate about extraordinary events that his fellow friars had witnessed. In 1910, Pio was ordained as a priest and, after a period of almost continuous health problems, he finally moved to San Giovanni Rotondo in Foggia, Puglia. Apart from a short spell of military service, he was to remain there until his death in 1968.
It was on September 20, 1918, that Padre Pio first experienced the stigmata. This phenomenon consists of experiencing bodily marks, pain, and bleeding in locations corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ. In common with other stigmatists throughout history, the blood flowing from the stigmata smelled of perfume or flowers, referred to as the "Odour of Sanctity". These events continued over fifty years, until his death. From the end of the war, Padre Pio's reputation continued to grow, with many people observing a wide range of spiritual gifts that he demonstrated in addition to the stigmata. However, he also had many critics, both inside and outside of the church. Over the years many doctors examined him and, although they were able to witness the wounds themselves, they were never able to diagnose the cause.
Despite his increasing popularity and growing numbers of pilgims choosing to make the journey to the Church of Our Lady of Grace in San Giovanni Rotondo, Church authorities continued to receive accusations against him and started to restrict his activities, eventually stopping him from celebrating Mass in public. At one stage, they even contemplated moving him from San Giovanni Rotondo, but they backed off, fearful of public reaction. By early 1933, Pope Pius X reversed the bans and encouraged people to visit Padre Pio once again, believing him to have been misjudged.
By the mid 60s, at the peak of his popularity, Padre Pio was holding Mass and hearing 50 confessions a day. However, his health was deteriorating badly. On September 20, 1968, the fiftieth anniversary of first receiving the stigmata, Padre Pio celebrated Mass as usual. On 22nd he was too tired to say Mass or hear any confessions and on 23rd September, in the early hours of the morning, Padre Pio died in his cell.
Padre Pio was buried on September 25 in the Church of Our Lady of Grace, to a requiem Mass attended by over 100,000 people. The Church of Our Lady of Grace is now one of the greatest places of Christian pilgrimages in the world.
After his death, his popularity grew even greater. There are an estimated 3 million members of Padre Pio prayer groups around the world. He was made a saint by Pope John Paul II in 2002 and in 2008, when his body was exhumed from its crypt so that it could be put on public display, over 800,000 people applied to file past his body.