It seems hard to believe, but the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy is coming to a close. Sunday, November 20 marks the feast of Christ the King of the Universe, and with it the close of the Jubilee year. The Jubilee, announced in April of 2015 by Pope Francis, began on December 8 last year with the feast of the Immaculate Conception and has since inspired millions to embrace more fully the mercy of Christ Jesus. Around the world, and here in Boston’s Cathedral of the Holy Cross, cathedrals and basilicas opened their Holy Doors of Mercy, welcoming pilgrims to experience the grace of conversion and the peace one finds in the mercy of God. In September, the Archdiocese of Boston was particularly blessed to have hosted the heart of Saint Padre Pio, who was known for his dedication for spreading the message of mercy and forgiveness and who dedicated countless hours to hearing an estimated five million confessions.
Born around the year 1181 in the town of Assisi, Italy, Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone was the son of a successful silk merchant. The boy’s father, who was on a business trip to France at the time of the boy’s birth, began calling the boy Francesco, “the Frenchman”, because of his affinity for the country. Never in want thanks to his father’s success as a merchant, Francis grew up living a raucous life of luxury and was known for his drinking and partying and general mischief. His youthful vigor led Francis to dream of becoming a knight, a profession much more interesting, he thought, than that of the cloth merchant he was destined to become. The opportunity to fulfill this dream came in 1202 when Assisi and neighboring Perugia entered into a state of war. Having never faced battle in his life, Francis was quickly captured and held for ransom for nearly a year until being returned to Assisi in 1203.
The heart of St. Padre Pio visited the Archdiocese of Boston last week, marking the first time that any of the revered saint’s relics have left Italy. The three-day tour of the diocese began Wednesday in Lowell and culminated in the celebration of Mass by Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley, OFM/Cap., at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Friday, September 23, Padre Pio’s feast day. I was blessed to be among the estimated over 20,000 pilgrims who came to venerate the relic. I had never seen an actual human heart before Friday’s trip to the cathedral. We all know the generic shape of a heart: two connected semicircles opposite a pointed end—the shape we would crudely draw on love notes when we were young, or which our teachers would have us cut out of pink paper to decorate the classroom every February. I found Friday evening that this simple caricature of the human heart bears little resemblance to the real thing, and that the valentines which we would adorn with them pale in comparison to the valentine whose reliquary graced our cathedral Friday. In his homily Cardinal O’Malley recalled his disappointment when, as a young Capuchin seminarian in 1963, he was denied the chance to visit the living Padre Pio by a superior. A smile came across his face as he mused over the fact that so many years later Padre Pio’s heart had now come to visit him: as if he received “a valentine from God.” And what better way to describe the heart of such a man as St. Pio? Here, before us for veneration, was the heart of a man who truly embraced Christ’s message of mercy, the heart from which his love for those in need and his compassion for the suffering overflowed. His heart itself was a conduit for the divine love of God to enter our broken world. A valentine indeed, for we read in Padre Pio’s life a love letter from God.