Night after night, I felt a strange presence in my room. When I realised what it was, I knew I had to become Catholic
On September 23 we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of St Pio of Pietrelcina, better known as Padre Pio. Just three days earlier, September 20, it was the 100th anniversary of Padre Pio receiving the stigmata. There are millions of people, living and departed, who owe a great deal to the advice, intercession and example of this great saint; and I am one of them.
My first encounter with St Pio was round a meal table in 1990, where one of the guests had regularly served Mass for the saint. He regaled us with stories of his many encounters with this extraordinary Capuchin Franciscan friar. At the end of the evening, the guest slipped into my hand a small plastic pouch containing a third-class relic, which I placed into my cassock pocket. At that time, I was an Anglican minister who had been struggling with the “call to Rome” since before my diaconal ordination. Hearing those tales and putting that small piece of cloth into my pocket took my life along the right path.
In those days, unlike now, I had the gift of sleep. When I went to bed I fell straight to sleep and woke the next morning. Some months after receiving the relic, I began waking in the early hours. The first time it happened I realised there was “someone” in the room. I wasn’t anxious about it. In fact, I felt completely at peace. But this continued night after night, at the same time, and eventually I realised that it was Padre Pio. In his presence, and in the forefront of my mind, in this atmosphere of peace, was only one thought: “I must convert to the Catholic faith.” Once I made that decision, my normal pattern of sleep returned and the visits ceased. And so, in due course, I left the Church of England, and in 1997 was ordained to the sacred priesthood by Cardinal Basil Hume.
While visiting family in New York, I met a wonderful Catholic family, the Realis. Michael, the husband, is alive and well today because of the prayers and the direct intervention of Padre Pio. It is an incredible and moving story, told in full in Diane Allen’s book, Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry. But in short, Padre Pio guided the surgeon’s hand when Michael was born via a tricky caesarean. Through the Realis, I grew to know St Pio even more and developed a greater awareness of the devotion there was to him, as well as an inkling of just how many lives he has affected in such wonderful ways.
While I was parish priest in Bayswater, and still carrying that tattered relic in my cassock pocket, it was announced that Padre Pio would be canonised on June 16, 2002. I knew I just had to go to Rome and thank Padre Pio for giving me the courage and push I needed that led me into the priesthood.
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