St. Padre Pio and the July/August Apparitions

by Fr. Andrew Apostoli, CFR –

During the July and August apparitions at Fatima, Our Lady revealed a number of things that reinforced her basic message for prayer and penance for the eternal salvation of souls. She also repeated requests that she had made in May and June. As Pope St. John Paul II is quoted as saying, “We do not need a whole lot of new ideas, just a lot of reminders!” So Our Lady often gently reminded Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta, and all of us through them, of the main points of her message, so that we would remember them and carry them out faithfully.

Let us now consider the main points of Our Lady’s July and August message, and see how St. Padre Pio lived these out faithfully.

The reality of hell

 One of the most powerful experiences the young visionaries had throughout the course of the apparitions was the vision of hell. This unforgettable vision constitutes the “first secret” of Fatima and was only publicly revealed in the memoirs of Sister Lucia written years afterwards.

God allowed the visionaries to see hell, the horror of which left a lasting impression on them. As Lucia described:

“We saw a sea of fire. Plunged in this fire were demons and souls that looked like transparent embers, some black or bronze, in human form, driven about by the flames that issued from within themselves, together with clouds of smoke. They were falling on all sides, just as sparks cascade from great fires, without weight or equilibrium, amid cries of pain and despair which horrified us so that we trembled with fear. … “

Even for these privileged souls, the vision was extremely frightful. It confirmed that hell is a reality; it exists! But it is something most people don’t care to think about, much less see, because it means admitting even the possibility of going there. Our Lady herself summed up the impact of this vision, when she said kindly but sadly to the children: “You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go.”

Our Lady in her earlier apparitions had already requested prayers and sacrifices for the conversion and salvation of souls. But by showing the children hell, with its grave, unending torments, Our Lady emphasized how urgent and essential was the task of saving souls. The children saw the tragic consequences that awaited any soul that would be lost.

In her brief August apparition, Our Lady again stressed the importance of offering prayers and sacrifices for the conversion of sinners. She said to the children so sadly: “Pray, pray very much and make sacrifices for sinners, for many souls go to hell because they have nobody to pray and make sacrifices for them.”

According to Lucia’s memoirs, Jacinta was most struck by this urgent message. The notion of an eternity of suffering affected her greatly. She became extremely zealous in saving souls from hell by her constant prayers and sacrifices.

The spirituality of St. Padre Pio

Padre Pio understood the importance of hell as a deterrent to sin, especially mortal sin, which if unrepented, would land a person in hell. A story is told of a man who came to confession to him who was living a life of mortal sin. Padre Pio told the man, “You had better change your life, or you will end up in hell.”

The man said, “Padre Pio, I don’t believe in hell.”

To which he answered, “Well, you will when you get there!” Padre Pio was only too aware of the sufferings of hell.

In another situation, a widow kept asking him if her husband, who had died recently, was in heaven. At first, Padre Pio would not answer her. Finally, as she insisted, he told her, “I cannot bear to see your husband in hell, he is so horrible looking. Although he had made a confession shortly before he died, he deliberately withheld confessing that he had committed adultery, and so he died unrepentant with these grave sins on his soul.”

Victim for souls

St. Padre Pio’s great desire was to be a “victim” with Christ for the salvation of souls. His powerful statement clearly shows his ardent longing that no soul be lost: “My Jesus, I want to be a victim for others. Punish me and not others, under the condition that I love you and everyone is saved.” This is no doubt the reason he spent over 15 hours a day hearing confessions when he was younger. It is estimated he heard over five million confessions in his lifetime. Why? So that sins may be forgiven and everyone saved!

Yet, the fear of hell should not be the primary focus of our Christian life; rather, it must be our sincere love for God and for one another. However, fear of hell, like a safety net, can halt us from mortal sin when love itself may not yet be a strong enough motive. Even St. Dismas, the “good thief”, knew its importance when he asked his fellow thief who was resisting repentance even in the very last moments of his life, “Have you no fear of God?” (cf Lk 23:40).

Hell is one of the “four last things” along with death, judgement and heaven. St. Augustine once said that if we meditate daily on these “four last things,” we would never commit a mortal sin.

(Reprinted with updates from the Jul-Aug 2001 issue of Soul)


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