By Fr. Bill Kneemiller
For The Catholic Messenger
Father Pellegrino Funicelli, a Franciscan friar, had the unique experience of living a few doors down from St. Padre Pio’s room for 15 years. Fr. Pellegrino’s book about the saint, “Padre Pio’s Jack of All Trades” (1991) includes a chapter regarding the saint’s views on abortion that I find timely.
Many people recognize Padre Pio (1887-1968) as the great stigmatist who bled from the five wounds of Christ for more than 50 years, but he was also a great mystic who believed deeply in respect for unborn children. He connected the care and love for children with love for God. “Parents live again in their children, for the love of God, their children and themselves.”
Fr. Pellegrino reflected on Padre Pio’s views on abortion as he shared a story of his own. In a moment of weakness, while hearing a woman’s confession, he told the distraught woman that she could do “whatever she wanted” regarding her request to abort her child, due in three months. That day, Padre Pio called Fr. Pellegrino to his room and asked him to read a short story about a poor woman who considered getting an abortion but had a conversion of heart.
Padre Pio said that “Even a lost woman, when she feels and defends her maternity with such beautiful force, not only does she redeem herself but, without realizing it, she becomes holy.” He added, “God transforms the lowest human miseries into beautiful things, leaving a ‘perfume of cleanliness and goodness.’”
Then Padre Pio took his fellow friar by the collar and shared his deepest concerns about abortion. “Abortion is not only murder, but it is also suicide.” Fr. Pellegrino asked: “Why suicide?” Padre Pio addressed the double gravity of abortion. “You would understand this suicide of the race, if with the eye of reason you could see … the earth populated by dribbling and toothless old people, devoid of children and burnt like a desert.”
Padre Pio admitted that his views were “harsh” but that “brotherly harshness is of greater value than all the sentiment in the world put together.” Fr. Pellegrino asked if Padre Pio could have just a little more compassion and respect for those who believe that abortion is the only current solution.
Padre Pio said the motives for abortion are far deeper than a consideration of “infant food” or the economics of raising children. Fr. Pellegrino said he believed that many women turn to abortion not out of wickedness but to escape pain and difficulties and to seek some tranquility. Padre Pio countered: “Oh, if only they sought the impulses of truth and goodness in the intimacy of their consciences, how much peace and comfort they would find!”
Padre Pio believed that the “race that does not accept respect for man from the time of his conception, is destined to an ignominious end, because it distorts the concept of love of neighbor, mistakes it with egoism, and cannot conceive the love of God at all.”
While the soul is created by God, “by procreating, man becomes parent of the whole world; of the soul and the body,” Padre Pio said. “The virtues of paternity and maternity are to be considered sublime.”
The friar instructed Fr. Pellegrino to run to the woman he had counseled that morning and take back what he had said regarding abortion. Fr. Pellegrino complied, and told the woman that Padre Pio said she would save her child. A few months later, the woman gave birth to a beautiful girl. Eight years later, this girl returned to Padre Pio, who was just months from death, and received first Communion from him.
(Father Bill Kneemiller is chaplain at The Kahl Home in Davenport.)