A friar with the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word and a Missionary of Mercy from Birmingham, Ala., Fr. Zeller is the proud owner of a first-class relic of Padre Pio, and has witnessed several healings in first-person after praying through Padre Pio’s intercession with the relic in hand.
Fr. Zeller said that while he initially had no specific devotion to Padre Pio, he developed one after taking a trip to San Giovanni Rotondo, where Padre Pio served as a priest for the majority of his life, after the 2014 canonization of St. John Paul II.
Padre Pio was born Francesco Forgione May 25, 1887, to a devout Catholic family in Pietrelcina, Italy. At the age of 15, he joined the Capuchin Friars, and eventually became a priest with the order.
Throughout his life, Padre Pio was known as a mystic who experienced the stigmata for 50 years. Many miracles and wonders have been attributed to him, including reports of healing, soul-reading, levitation and even bi-location.
Fr. Zeller said that after he received the relics, he gave one to his community, founded by Mother Angelica, and was granted permission to keep the other for himself.
“I keep that relic on me at all times,” he said, noting that in his role as Director of the pilgrimage department at EWTN’s headquarters in Birmingham, “I have the opportunity to pray with a lot of people.”
“I’ve prayed with people and there have been cases where there have been, I would say, some healings,” the priest said, explaining that people will come up to him several months, even a year, after he prayed with them and recount experiences of healing.
One such experience happened only a few months ago during a healing service at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, he said, recalling how during the service, he and two other priests prayed over people with the two blood-soaked bandages as well as a glove of Padre Pio’s that belonged to Mother Angelica.
As they were praying a woman suffering from sciatica came up “and I prayed over her,” Fr. Zeller said, noting that the woman approached him later and said that after she went back to her seat, she told her husband “I’m healed.”
Sciatica “is a very serious back condition that doesn’t really go away and is very painful,” the priest said, noting that “it totally went away” for this woman after he prayed over her with the relic.
In another instance, Fr. Zeller recalled how shortly after he received the relic he was talking with some friends and found out that their 12-year-old daughter had been suffering from an ear infection that “wouldn’t seem to go away.”
He asked the girl if he could pray over her with his relic, and when she said yes, “I showed her mom and I showed her and I said ‘which ear is it?'”
Fr. Zeller said that as soon as he put the relic to the girl’s ear and began to pray “she dropped to the ground. She totally slipped out of my hands.”
“I should have caught her, but I didn’t know what was happening, I was kind of scared that something happened to her, but she totally slipped out of my hands and fell on the ground,” he said, noting that while he was anxious over the situation, the girl’s mother was calm, saying “that would be ‘Slain in the Spirit.'”
“The ear infection was completely knocked out of her,” he said, noting that from that point on, “from what I know she didn’t have the ear infection.”
In yet another case “there was a lady that had some kind of heart disease for 40 years that she’d suffered from in her life,” he said, adding that while he didn’t have time to get into the specifics, “she’s totally healed” after having been prayed over with the relic of Padre Pio.
“It’s a longer story than that, but she’s totally free from that,” Fr. Zeller said, recalling how another women recently came to him, saying she “had experienced some kind of physical healing” after being prayed over with the relic.
Referring to the healings, Fr. Zeller stressed that “that’s not me, that’s the intercession of St. Padre Pio.”
Although he initially had no devotion to Padre Pio until just a few years ago, the priest said he feels like the sudden connection that came is because the saint chose him, rather than the other way around.
“One of my professors at seminary used to say that we don’t choose saints, saints choose us,” he said, noting that while we may have “a particular liking of a saint, we may look at a saint’s personality and be drawn to them.I think there is a truth to saints choosing us rather than us choosing them.”
Padre Pio “was really a joyful friar,” he said, explaining that he had always envisioned the saint as being “really stern” and was afraid to ask for his intercession, lest Padre Pio “be stern with me.”
However, it was during his trip to San Giovanni Rotondo that he learned who Padre Pio really was, Fr. Zeller said, explaining that in his view, the reason for the saint’s seemingly serious disposition is that “he knew when people were not repentant.”
“It was said that he could even smell sin, and I don’t even imagine what eternal separation from God smells like,” the priest said.
“So that was his concern for the salvation of people’s souls. He was concerned about people’s souls and bringing them God’s mercy and God’s forgiveness.”
To honor his upcoming Sept. 23 feast, devotees in Rome will celebrate with an entire week of events and activities.
Thousands of devotees with 600 groups will gather in the Roman parish of San Salvatore in Lauro, adjacent to Rome’s famous Piazza Navona, which will serve as a hub for the people attending the various activities linked to Padre Pio’s feast.
Inside San Salvatore numerous relics of Padre Pio, including his cloak, gloves, stole and blood from the wounds of the stigmata that marked his body for 50 years.
Festivities opened Sept. 18 with a special Mass celebrated by Rome’s auxiliary bishop Guerino Di Tora. On Sept. 20 Padre Pio’s relics were exposed in San Salvatore for veneration, and a special Mass celebrated by another of Rome’s auxiliary bishops, Angelo De Donatis.
Two days later, on the 22nd, the “Vigil of Transit” commemorating what is believed to be the exact moment of Padre Pio’s death will be celebrated. After the vigil, Mass will be celebrated by Msgr. Carmelo Pellegrino, Promotor of Faith of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
Celebrations will culminate on Padre Pio’s Sept. 23 feast with several Masses said throughout the day as well as a procession of a statue of the saint and his relics from San Salvatore to Piazza Navona, which will take place in the afternoon.
A special blessing will be given and a prayer offered for the victims of the recent earthquake that devastated several cities in Central Italy.
By Elise Harris