By Norman P. Grecia
When Divine Providence works, one can only wonder in amazement at how things fall into the right place and how the most unlikely of people are used as instruments for the divine project.
The hands of God were certainly at work in the parish of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage when the project involving St. Padre Pio was first conceived.
Sometime in July 2017, Rev. Fr. Jojie Ansula of Airport Parish, also known as the Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage Parish, had the idea to build a grotto for Our Lady of Lourdes inside the spacious parish compound. When he broached the idea to Atty. Mitchelle Abella, his close friend and classmate in the seminary, he was introduced inopportunely to St. Padre Pio, the Capuchin stigmatist and mystic of whom the humble parish priest of Airport is not well acquainted. To make the long story short, Fr. Jojie was persuaded to also build a statue of St. Padre Pio as suggested by Atty. Abella, whose daughters are already staunch devotees of the Capuchin saint.
When they started to engage on the project, minor obstacles were easily surmounted and the major ones somehow resolved by themselves. It seems to appear in hindsight that the contemporary miracle workers apparently wanted to have a home in the Airport Parish.
The marble statue of the saint was ordered from Romblon. A corner of the parish compound that used to be a dump area was chosen as the construction site. And more importantly, St. Padre Pio was slowly made known to Fr. Jojie.
St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina was a world-renowned miracle worker known primarily for his stigmata and for miraculously healing the sick in many emergency and operating rooms in various hospitals around the world. He was also known to possess the power of bilocation as he was often seen helping people in distress in many places outside of Italy though he had never left his home country his entire life.
Yet his popularity remained obscure to the unassuming parish priest of Airport. It is not surprising then that the widely acclaimed stigmatist made his presence felt to Fr. Jojie himself who is one of the very first devotee-converts of the Capuchin saint in Airport Parish.
Long before the holy relic of St. Padre Pio arrived at the Airport Parish, the Capuchin miracle worker has already made a powerful impression upon the parish church even when the chapel built in his honor was not yet constructed and the statue of the holy man was not yet erected.
Many wonderful things have happened since the Holy Week of last year. On March 29, 2018, Fr. Jojie, was celebrating Maundy Thursday commemorating the washing of feet of the Apostles by Jesus, he experienced some stroke-like symptoms which made it difficult for him to pronounce words while speaking during the mass. After the mass, Fr. Jojie could hardly drink water as it would spill from the right side of his mouth. Concerned of his condition, he went to see his doctor who took a battery of laboratory tests to assess his medical condition, one of which the MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) required him to enter a tube while lying down motionless for 45 minutes. Fr. Jojie, who is claustrophobic, was overcome with fear by this procedure. In his predicament, he remembered Padre Pio and he prayed to the Capuchin saint to intercede for him to the Master Healer. His prayer was answered. Stroke was ruled out, but he was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy instead. However, after two weeks of medication, Fr. Jojie was back to optimal health as if nothing of the sort happened.
As soon as Fr. Jojie recovered, he immediately went back to one of his passions: playing lawn tennis, the game which forged his friendship with Fr. Fernando Suarez, MMP, also a tennis enthusiast. Both priests are avid tennis players who met each other first in the tennis court way back in 2008. They have played many tennis tournaments among the clergy here and other countries abroad including Poland in 2012.
When Fr. Suarez was invited to celebrate the monthly mass in honor of St. Padre Pio on January 26, 2019, as it was the 4th Saturday of the month in the Airport Parish church, it was then when he announced to the delight of hundreds who attended the healing mass that he will be donating the relic of St. Padre Pio to the Airport Parish. The relic consists of a small piece of cloth from the blood-stained gloves of the stigmatist to conceal the wounds on his hands that were known to bleed every First Friday of the month.
The relic arrived at the Airport Parish on March 15, 2019. It was fetched from Manila at Fr. Suarez’s residence by Fr. Jojie and Atty. Mitch. Since its arrival, only private individuals privy to tis presence have visited the relic. The public veneration for devotees and the faithful in general started on the first week of June, 2019.
Last June 1, Saturday, and every Saturday thereafter, the veneration of the holy relic started after the 6:00 a.m. mass until 11:00 a.m. The relic will also be open for public veneration after the 8:00 a.m. Sunday mass, from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Fr. Jojie is also inviting the faithful of the Diocese of Bacolod to attend the mass in honor of St. Padre Pio every 4th Saturday of the month, at 5:00 in the afternoon.
The construction of a small and simple chapel was also spearheaded by Fr. Jojie through the support of parishioners and the devotees of St. Padre Pio in the Diocese. This simple but elegant edifice built as a prayer room and also to house the relic was inaugurated. The presence of the Capuchin holy man cannot be mistaken upon entering the church grounds since three statues of the saint have been erected there.
The special healing oil, especially concocted by Fr. Suarez, a chemist by profession, is available at the parish office for the sick and afflicted.
The Capuchin saint and miracle worker has found a home at the Airport Parish. St. Padre Pio summed up his spiritual praxis in three words: pray, hope, and don’t worry. Before his death in 1968, while he was still living in Pietrelcina, San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy, he said, “After my death, I will do more. My real mission will begin after my death.”
Throughout the history of the church, saints have kept their promises. They are known to be steadfast and true to their word. The work of St. Padre Pio in the Airport Parish has just begun. I’m looking forward that the devotees and the faithful of the Diocese will keep the Capuchin miracle worker busy with their prayers and petitions. I’m sure the saint won’t mind./PN