The International Convention of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups was opened on May 4, 1986, with a concelebrated Mass in front of the Shrine of Our Lady Of Grace. The occasion was the thirtieth anniversary of Padre Pio’s hospital, the Home for the Relief of Suffering. At that opening I was able to announce to those present the news of Pontifical approbation of the new Statutes of the Prayer Groups of Padre Pio. It had been communicated to me by a letter dated May 3, 1986 from Cardinal Casaroli, Secretary of State of His Holiness.
In union with the Church, the Prayer Groups awaited the approval of the new Statutes of the Prayer Groups. As Director General at that time, Bishop Riccardo Ruotolo had the pleasure of presenting the same to all the adherents of the groups. As Spiritual Children of Padre Pio, all we do is in union and with the approval and blessings of the Church. This is not an interference from outside – as I heard was said some years ago by one no longer associated with the Prayer Groups – but an act of obedient acceptance and loving trust in the will of the Vicar of Christ and Successor of Peter through the Church.
The crowd present received the news with prolonged applause, a sign of joy and great gratitude toward the Holy Father, who had deigned to approve the new Statutes. He had already referred to them in the address which he delivered on October 1, 1983 to twenty thousand Prayer Group pilgrims gathered from all over the world.
It is said that Rome is eternal, in other words, that it takes so long to get things done. However, anything worth doing should never be done hurriedly. When laws, statutes, rules, etc. that will guide the lives of others are in question, every aspect and possible effect of such things must be studied, before reaching a decision that could be binding. There is a sense of relief and joy when decisions are reached because that means that now a given way of doing things is clearer and more certain.
The new Statutes confirm the basic principles and aims, which Padre Pio had given to his Groups from the beginning of their establishment.
The Statutes are not something new but a development of Padre Pio’s desires, based on the spirit he conveyed to others and his conversations with the friars and others. It is erroneous to say and think that the approvedStatutesare a deviation or total change of Padre Pio’s original desires, in conformity with the wishes of Pope Pius XII.
The Prayer Groups have to distinguish themselves for their fidelity to the Church, to the Pope, and to the Bishops. They must aim at an integral Christian formation through prayer and generous charity towards the suffering, according to what Padre Pio indicated.
An essential characteristic of a Spiritual Child of Padre Pio and thus of the Prayer Groups, is faithfulness – fidelity to the call and commitment. We are called to be faithful to God, the Gospel, the Church and those in the Church who are called to shepherd the God’s People. Our Holy Father is supreme in this matter. Anything that comes from him and through him to us is to be accepted as a gift and not as an imposition from afar. The moment we feel anything but love and respect for the Holy Father and his directives, that is the moment we have ceased to be a Spiritual Children of Padre Pio, who accepted even being silenced by the Church, and waited patiently until the truth was known and he could resume his ministry.
The structure of the Prayer Groups is in full harmony with the Church’s hierarchical structure.
Some have suggested that Padre Pio did not want any formal structure. An international organization cannot exist long without some basic guidelines and structure that create encourage unity among the members and offer a common bond and direction in the spirit of the founderThe line of authority, responsibility and accountability for the Association is similar to that in the Universal and Local Church. The line of authority from the head (General Director) to the members, follows a “line of command” that ensures continuity and authenticity of Padre Pio’s charism, orthodoxy and unity of directives, and a “connectedness” among all the groups and members so that all can focus, as center and heart of the Association in San Giovanni Rotondo where Padre Pio initiated this movement among the faithful seeking a deeper spiritual relationship with God through him.
It is absolutely necessary that each Group have a Priest Spiritual Director, appointed by the Bishop and the guarantor of the Group’s spiritual formation and adherence to the doctrine and directives of the Magisterium of the Church.
The priest Spiritual Director of the group, whose presence is essential at the monthly meeting, both as celebrant of the Eucharist and guide for the spiritual discussion and meeting, is an integral part of the Prayer Groups. He represents the Bishop, whose approval is necessary for the establishment of the group. A faithful priest ensures that matters discussed will always be in harmony with Gospel values and Church teaching.Elimination or substitution of the Eucharist with prayers, and the absence of the priest at the meetings slowly erodes the basic spirit of the group and is not in conformity with the wishes of the founderMore will be said about the Spiritual Director later in the Statutes.
Appointment of the Group Leader is reserved to the Bishop, after the members vote in the presence of a Priest appointed by the Bishop. This ensures fidelity to the Hierarchy.
Although the optimum is the above comment, often the initial groups are formed with all essential members present and then the Bishop’s approval is requested. At present this is being done because most Bishop’s are not aware of the Association and its spirit, and the possible benefits to the local Church. The first group leaders are appointed and approved by the Bishop with his signature approving the establishment of the group.
Until the local Bishop knows of the Prayer Groups in his Diocese and is able to offer a priest to coordinate them within his Diocese, we must adapt ourselves to the situation.
When the first leadership council of a Prayer Group reaches its five-year mark, it is necessary to have an election. After the first appointment and approval by the Bishop, all other leaders must be elected – not appointed – by the members of the group for the time stipulated by the Statutes. The election is done with the members of the Prayer Group present together with the Spiritual Director. The Spiritual Director’s presence represents that of the Church and ensure faithfulness to Church procedures should difficulties or questions arise.
To the Bishop is likewise reserved the appointment of the Priest to be the Diocesan Co-ordinator of the Groups, whereas the appointment of the Regional or National Co-ordinator falls within the competence of the Regional or National Episcopal Conference.
The National Co-ordinator has been appointed through the process mentioned above (National Episcopal Conference and appointment by the Papal Delegate for the Works and Shrine of Padre Pio). The Regional and Diocesan Co-ordinators are still in process, since the establishment of the groups in the USA met a snag for a number of years without a cleric (priest) liaison between San Giovanni Rotondo and the (Arch) Dioceses in the U.S.A.
The Certificate of affiliation with the International Centre, which has it’s headquarters in Padre Pio’s Foundation, the Home for the Relief of Suffering, is the visible link of the Group’s union with the Centre instituted by Padre Pio.
Official headquarters for the Padre Pio Prayer Groups is the Home for the Relief of Suffering (Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza). All other Centers serve as coordinating points of reference in the various countries around the world. These Centers facilitate communication among the groups in a specific nation, and assist, if needed, in communicating directly with San Giovanni Rotondo and the General Administration at the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza (Home for the Relief of Suffering).
The Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza is the foundation established by Padre Pio as an external sign of compassion and concern for those who suffer. While there is no obligation to support the Home for the Relief of Suffering, the Prayer Groups, realizing Padre Pio’s desire to promote this medical miracle, have contributed voluntarily throughout the years for the upkeep and continual modernization of this facility.
All Groups will periodically send reports to the Centre of their activities, so that the General Headquarters may be able to draw up an annual report of such activities, to be sent to the Cardinal Secretary of State.
The Holy See receives reports regularly on the activities and progress of the Prayer Groups around the world and any works supported by the Spiritual Children of Padre Pio. This is done through the International Headquarters at the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza. (Since the National Offices are also responsible for information and setting up formation programs, it is recommended that groups send a copy of their Activities Reports to the National Office so that an updated account of the activities of the groups throughout the country can be kept in our National files.)
This special link with the Holy See and with the Holy Father is a very high honor for the Prayer Groups. It should also constitute a constant commitment on the part of the General Headquarters, with the General Council, and all Prayer Group spread throughout the world, to co-operate fully with the Holy Father’s directives.
The Holy Father took upon himself the Prayer Groups as particularly dear to his heart. Those in the General, National, Regional and Local administration of the groups must never forget their responsibility of fidelity to the Holy Father and the teachings of the Church. The Prayer Groups are not pockets of people practicing individual personal devotions and meaningless pious platitudes. They are furnaces aglow with a love for God and Our Lady and a desire to spread that to others, in union with the Church.
It is our great hope that promulgation of the new Statutes will be a fresh stimulus to Padre Pio’s Prayer Groups to advance in the Christian formation of their members, through prayer, together with an active participation in the Church’s liturgical life, and with active charity to those who suffer, according to what Padre Pio has taught us.
As you can note, already in 1986, the aims and objectives of the Prayer Groups was not just personal prayer recited by individuals who happened to gather together to recite prays. The Prayer Groups were intended to unite the faithful to pray with the Church, and through that prayer to actively, when and where possible, to make that prayer effective in the lives of others through charitable works and/or deeper and more active participation in the life of one’s own parish family or local religious community.
All members of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups will accept the new Statutes with enthusiasm and joy;
The Statutes are not suggestions that can be ignored. The term used is will accept the new Statutes. They are directives approved by the Holy See, thus indicating who the more authentic Spiritual Children of Padre Pio are.
they will reflect on the principles inspiring them and the aims indicated by the Padre;
The group is expected to reflect often on the spirit, words, counsels, and example of Padre Pio. Again, we see here the need for the priest Spiritual Director to insure that the discussions and reflections remain orthodox.
their activities and initiatives will conform to the new Rules, and they will remember that, when acting in full adherence to the directives of the Pontifical Magisterium, they will be better able to achieve their own Christian formation through liturgical and community prayer out of love for the Lord and the suffering brethren.
This was written for the present Statutes approved in 1986. Updated Statutes are being worked on. Until they are reviewed and approved by the Holy See, these are the ones we follow. As you can note, there is no deviation from the basic goals of the foundation: participation in the Liturgy, prayer, personal formation with the group and alone, and concern for the less fortunate than we.
Monsignore Riccardo Ruotolo
Bishop Riccardo Ruotolo was Director General of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups when the Statutes were approved. Since then, Archbishop Domenico Umberto D’Ambrosio has been appointed Archbishop of Manfredonia-Vieste-San Giovanni Rotondo and Delegate of the Holy See for the Shrine and Works of St. Pio of Pietrelcina.