I thought I would take this opportunity to share with you part of my journey as a priest. Perhaps it will encourage those of you who have a tendency to put things off!
The very first thing I did when I was ordained to the priesthood back in July 2001 and before I took up my ministry in Holy Innocents parish, Orpington, was to take myself off to All Hallows, Dublin for a priest retreat given by Sister Briege Mckenna and Fr Kevin Scallon. I had always wanted to meet Sr Briege ever since I had read her book, Miracles Do Happen, in the late 1980’s. It tells of how after being healed of crippling arthritis in 1970 she began her own healing ministry which has taken her all over the world including Latin America and Korea. In the book we gain an insight into the importance of three elements in the healing ministry: prayer, faith and the Eucharist. She emphasises the importance of striving for greater knowledge of God’s love and the need for close fellowship with Him. She also writes about the ministry of the priesthood. It was later that she developed a partnership with Fr Kevin in ministering to priests.
When I finally managed to have a one-to-one with Sr Briege midway through the retreat, I presented her with a list of things I needed prayer for but she politely told me that this was not her normal way of doing things and went on to explain how she would wait upon the Lord to direct her. Eventually after a period of silent prayer Sister Briege told me how Padre Pio would play an important part in my life as a priest. I returned to England somewhat puzzled by this development for I had never shown any real interest in him. Had her discernment been wrong? In the years that followed, books about Padre Pio would come my way and I would place them on a book shelf and there they would remain, barely touched and certainly unread.
That is until my return from our recent pilgrimage to Italy where we visited among other holy sites, St Giovanni Rotondo. Now I find myself wanting to know more about him. Books on my ‘must read’ list are the neglected ones that have been in my possession for some years, Padre Pio: The True Story by C.Bernard Ruffin, The Friar of St Giovanni by John McCaffery and an intriguing book entitled The Two Stigmatists, Padre Pio and Teresa Neumann by Rev. Charles M. Carty. A book strongly recommended to me by a Franciscan I met in San Giovanni Rotondo as the best on the life and spirituality of Padre Pio is Saint Pio of Pietrelcina by a Capuchin Friar with the splendid name of Alessandro of Ripabottoni. At the moment I am reading a book entitled The Devil in the Life of Padre Pio by Fr Tarcisio of Cervinara, certainly an acquired taste and perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea.
Enough of the recommended reading list. I suppose the point to all of this is that I am finally coming round to embracing this holy man, this saint, who I have been avoiding for the last seventeen years.
Apologies Sister Briege and to the good Lord of course that it’s taken me so long to get to this stage. It’s through prayer and the process of walking around in Padre Pio’s shoes so to speak that I will gain further insight and understanding of this extraordinary man and the relevance that he has to my life as a priest. If I could be light hearted for a moment and perhaps a trifle flippant, I must say I have always been attracted to the gift of bilocation but less enthusiastic about stigmata! But seriously, I’ll settle for being a better priest through the prayers of the saint from San Giova.