“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” – 1 Peter 5.8
St. Padre Pio is one of the most famous and beloved saints of the 20th century. He also had one of the most supernatural lives of any saint in modern Church history, including being regularly attacked physically by demonic forces.
Born as Francesco Forgione in a small Italian farming community in the late 19th century, his family went to Mass and prayed the rosary daily. Never wavering in his faith in Jesus and commitment to the Church, he became a Franciscan at the age of 15, taking the name Pio.
Then, two years later, his life took a sudden and unexpected turn: while suffering from a terrible illness, he started to have intense spiritual experiences.
People started seeing him levitate, as well as regularly fall into an intense state of religious ecstasy. He received the gift of stigmata, in which the wounds of Christ miraculously appeared on his body, and he could miraculously read people’s souls during confession.
In one story, a professional mathematician was confessing his sins to Pio. Though he did not tell Pio he was a mathematician, somehow the saint knew: when he was a bit vague on how many times he had committed a particular sin, Pio responded firmly, “You’re a mathematician, leave the confessional and comeback when you know how many times you did that.”
He also appeared to be capable of bi-location. For example, in 1950, Pio was seen attending the funeral of a monk in Milwaukee, Wisconsin – but without ever having left his own monastery in Italy. Regarding his ability to bi-locate, one person reports that Pio once said, “I can do three thing at once: pray, confess, and go around the world.”
But the most extraordinary aspect of Padre Pio’s spiritual life was his explicit spiritual warfare with the demonic.
“Padre Pio’s real enemies were the demons who besieged him,” says Fr. Gabriele Amorth, a leading Roman exorcist. “The great and constant struggle of Padre Pio’s life was with those enemies of God and human souls, the devils who tried to capture his soul.”
Even in his youth, St. Padre Pio would enjoy incredible celestial visions, but also suffer demonic attacks. Fr. Amorth explains:
“The devil would appear to him as an ugly black cat, or in the shape of a truly repugnant animal. The obvious intent was to fill him with terror. Other times demons came as young girls, nude and provocative, performing obscene dances, to test the young priest’s chastity.
“But Padre Pio sensed his greatest danger when the devil tried to deceive him by taking on the form of one of his superiors (his provincial superior or his spiritual director) or in a sacred form (the Lord, the Virgin, or St. Francis).”
This last tactic – of the devil appearing as someone good and holy – was a particularly difficult problem. Here’s how St. Padre Pio would discern his visions:
“He noticed a certain timidity when the Virgin or the Lord first appeared, followed by a sense of peace when the vision departed. On the other hand, a devil in sacred form provoked an immediate feeling of joy and attraction, replaced afterwards by remorse and sadness.”
Satan would even sometimes attack St. Padre Pio physically. He describes this in one letter he wrote to a priest confidant:
“These devils don’t stop striking me, even making me fall down from the bed. They even tear off my shirt to beat me! But now they do not frighten me anymore. Jesus loves me, He often lifts me and places me back on the bed.”
Indeed, if we are close to the Lord, we should have no fear of the spiritual forces of evil.