Monthly Letter
May, 2005

Padre Pio Prayer Groups

National Office

St. Francis Renewal Center
1901 Prior Road
Wilmington, Delaware 19809

Dear Spiritual Children and Friends of Padre Pio,

The Lord give you His peace!

Memories and emotions play an important part in the life of most people. This past month of April, for 10 days, I was given the wonderful opportunity of experiencing both, when I visited Italy to attend the General Council meeting of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups in San Giovanni Rotondo.

Monsignor D’Ambrosio, our General Director, and Don Vincenzo, Vice General Director, reminded me that as member of the International Council of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups, I was expected to attend and participate in the meetings that are held in San Giovanni Rotondo every year. The past year it was not possible. But, this April, I was able to make the trip to Italy for the Meeting. What a gift from God these few days were for me! Not only did I learn more about my ministry as National Coordinator for the Padre Pio Prayer Groups in the USA, but I also met some wonderful people from other parts of the world whose ministry with the Prayer Groups in their countries make our Association a truly wonderful organization that can be an effective presence in the Church and society wherever the members are willing to accept the challenge that Padre Pio offers them.

This challenge I speak of goes beyond the merely devotional practices in which we find so much comfort and serenity as we practice them once a month. Padre Pio’s desire was to arouse a militia of praying warriors whose weapon would be the Rosary and whose life and strength would be the Eucharist as they confronted society together with their fellow combatants in the Church. Please pardon me for using militant terms to speak of our Association. We are a militia, however! We cannot sit back and let the spirit of the world overcome us with its seductive allurements that deafen God’s voice and dim the view of the splendor of His glory that shines through, in and with the Church, the Sacraments and those faithful who want to be Jesus to the world.

There are a few who have commented that the organizational aspects of our Association, as I present them at times in the letters or in telephone conversations, are contrary to the mind of Padre Pio. According to some, Padre Pio wanted people to “just pray”. The comments questioned the need for the local bishop’s approval, lay leaders to guide the group, voting for new leadership every so many years, operational funds, etc. Unfortunately, these people seem not to understand Padre Pio’s fidelity and obedience to the Church. The mere fact that he submitted each individual Prayer Group to the approval of the local Ordinary and local pastor, and the fact that he turned over all of his works to the Holy See is a clear sign of Padre Pio’s desire to grow in and with the Church. A group that aspires to influence others through its spirit cannot be disconnected and haphazard in its expressions of spirit and life. The organizational elements of our Association enhance and strengthen our presence rather than weaken it. The question is whether those in leadership positions are ready and willing to let go of “power”, when the time comes, and allow others to share in the privilege and burden of the responsibility and accountability to others, while at the same time supporting them and encouraging them through their own experiences to build on the work already done.

I have reflected on these comments and difficulties expressed by some of you. I think it would be profitable to reflect succinctly with all of you on these matters in this letter. Hopefully, I can clarify my proposals and help some to understand the reasons for saying and proposing the things that I do. Allow me to add also that I spoke of these matters in San Giovanni Rotondo at the recent General Council Meeting and have been reaffirmed and encouraged in the direction I am taking.

Where is the difficulty? Maybe it was the letter requesting the Prayer Groups to consider a regular donation for the operational responsibilities of the National Office. It could have been my emphasis on the fact that leadership in the Prayer Groups is subject to a democratic vote of all the members, and not on the paternalistic or dynastic “passing on of power” to the next in line or “favored child”. It may possibly have been my urging that the Groups keep faithful to the basic commitment of their specific prayers and spiritual exercises as Padre Pio Prayer Groups rather than confuse issues by aggregating themselves to other existing spiritual organizations that would “water-down” or even eclipse the unique spiritual impact of the thoughts and ideals of Padre Pio. There is also the probability that some are taken back by the fact that we are trying to create a greater bond among all the Groups, so that the Association, as it is presented in the USA to the local Church, can be a sign of unity in diversity for the local ordinaries to appreciate as they consider the establishment of Prayer Groups in their dioceses. Could it possibly be the fact that as yet I have not personally visited any of the Prayer Groups in the USA? These are but a few of the thoughts that enter my mind. Maybe you have thought some of them, or others that I did not articulate. When you consider the above possibilities, you can easily note that there is a definite connection among them all. No one can be responded to without affecting another.

One of the main features that came out of our meeting in San Giovanni Rotondo was the need for formation in the spirit of the Prayer Groups. That is, there is a need for programs to be encouraged that would help Spiritual Directors as well as the lay membership - not just the leadership - to know and grow in the spirit of the values proposed by Padre Pio and the Spiritual Life. Spiritual Direction is not just a pious presence at devotional practices but a more committed availability to help those who are Spiritual Children of Padre Pio to grow in the knowledge and exercise of the spiritual life and its practices in a wholesome effective response to the urges of the Holy Spirit. Formation nourishes our minds and hearts with the elements that enhance our awareness of who we are, and offers us the tools to better fulfill our apostolate of prayer and charity as Spiritual Children of Padre Pio. Yes, I used the word “charity” as well. Prayer that remains in the heart of the pray-er, without ever touching another, stagnates and, like water that doesn’t flow, begins to stink and is worth nothing. Padre Pio’s vision was that of a power house of prayer-ers whose relationship with God and each other through the Eucharist and Our Lady would open the hearts of people to the world in which they live and help them to see and respond to the suffering Savior in their needy sisters and brothers.

As you can see, I have returned from San Giovanni with a power packed program that I hope we will be able to implement prudently and effectively here in the USA. Italy and several other areas are already moving forward. It is not “my” task, but “ours”. We have to take one step at a time. I will be asking for your suggestions and assistance. As Coordinator of all the Prayer Groups in the USA, there are various steps I hope to be able to implement in the next few months. The better we fulfill the basics within our individual groups, the easier it will be to organize regional and/or national gatherings for the sake of formation in and celebration of the spirit of Padre Pio. All I can say, with the words of our late Holy Father Pope John Paul II and our recently elected Pope Benedict XVI is “Do not be afraid”. Change of any kind, drastic or just minimal, often evokes apprehension if not outright fear. Why? The goal is not to change the image of the Prayer Groups, but to form them to be more what Padre Pio envisioned and the Church Universal expects from those groups considered channels of grace and holiness among and for the faithful. We will be focusing on the Statutes as they are (those approved in 1986), as we await the new revised Statutes that hopefully will be offered us within the next year or two.

As we move forward, we must trust that the Holy Spirit will encourage us to make those necessary modifications that will help us begin to see our Association not just as a pious monthly practice but as a way of life, lived simply, yet deeply, in the spirit of Padre Pio whose love for the Eucharist, Our Lady and the Church made him such a powerful spiritual magnet for millions. It had been thirty-eight years since I had seen San Giovanni Rotondo. I was astounded at the thousands present, filling the new Church for Mass on Sunday, and the thousands still visiting and praying at the shrine on the other days of the week that I was there. The spirit and example of our holy Founder still speaks loudly to so many. Will we not take up the challenge and follow...we who are his Spiritual Children, not only in name but also in fact?!

In this month of May, traditionally dedicated to Our Heavenly Mother Mary, we have in her an eminent example. She teaches us by her life that we must live with Jesus. She teaches us with her words that we must always be available to the Father’s Will by offering our unconditional “yes” and then fulfill our place in the world by “doing whatever he tells you”. Mary, like Padre Pio, is one whom we love but whose example we often fall short of following. There is no greater sign of admiration and love than to follow the example she or he offers. Mary, Mother of the Church, gathers her children, as she did that first Pentecost, to await and receive the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. While herself remaining silent, she was there to encourage the newborn Church to stand up and stand out for the Gospel - for Jesus by fearlessly living His message for the world to see. We are a small part - “Portiuncula” (God’s little portion) - of that first Christian community that has now grown to 1.1 billion plus children of God redeemed in the blood of Jesus. Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI, newly elected Shepherd of this vast flock, trusts in the fidelity and love of those whom he has been called to shepherd. His words “help me”, “pray for me” repeat once again the original desire and challenge of Pope Pius XII that Padre Pio accepted as a personal mandate and mission in the establishment of his Prayer Groups. The only dangers we must avoid are those of pride that makes us refuse to share with one another and self-centeredness that refuses to re-evaluate our way of doing things for a greater good.

In this month of Mary, I pray that Our Lady may guide our hearts to seek the Lord and His Will at all times. May she guide, guard and protect us that we may more clearly see the wonder and beauty of the Father’s presence around us and within each one. And, may Padre Pio look with loving care on each and every one of us, his Spiritual Children.

Peace and Blessings,

Fr. Francis A. Sariego, O.F.M. Cap.
National Coordinator