By Connie Hoebich
In 1963, Joey Lomangino was spiritually converted and received a miraculous physical cure from God through Padre Pio. Since that very day, Joey has been a man of prayer, ever increasing; a daily Communicant and a daily Rosarian. The overflow of his spiritual life has brought about the founding and inspirational impetus of an organization whose apostolic activities and rich spiritual fruits have reached around the world.
The kernel from which all has sprung is Joey’s celebrated “conference”, a slide-talk presentation on Padre Pio, Fatima and Garabandal which he has given some 4,000 tiimes in 25 states in America and 11 other countries. From its beginning- when Joey would go house to house with a photo album under his arm to tell people about Padre Pio and at the same time to tell of his own convictions regarding Garabandal-there have been here and there rumblings of discontent from well-meaning devotees of Padre Pio: “That Joey is a swell guy, and Garabandal is probably authentic but why talk about the two matters together? Why connect our saintly Padre with apparitions that haven’t yet received the endorsement of the official Church?”
That the question should be raised at all perplexes those who know Joey well, for they know that is was Padre Pio who opened Joey’s heart to God, Padre Pio who taught him to pray, and, through prayer, to find peace and purpose. And they know that it is grace, obtained through prayer, that has turned Joey from a shy, introverted, non-religious, scantily educated blind man into a dynamic lay missionary, a man who stands up before thousands of people-from bishops in great cathedrals to murderers in federal prisons—and holds their attention for two and more hours as he speaks, often effecting a change for the better in their lives.
Once when Joey was standing with a friend near Padre Pio, the friend pointed to Joey’s eyes. The Padre said in response: “I can’t give him sight for his eyes, but I can give him sight for his soul.” He did, and Joey wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world, 20-20 vision included. Joey’s simple and to the point thought is: “If only more people could know about Padre Pio, they could be converted just as I was.” These are the reasons Joey preaches Padre Pio, with deep gratitude and conviction.
Now this same Padre Pio who has meant so much to Joey lived in his own life every aspect of the message of Garabandal. And it was he who first pointed Joey in the direction of Garabandal. Padre Pio assured Joey of the truth of the apparitions, and he told him to go to the village. As far as Joey is concerned, the two—Padre Pio and Garabandal-are forever connected in his heart and, therefore, his apostolate must give witness to both.
CONVERSION AND CURE
The accident that blinded Joey in 1947 flung his family into poverty. For seven years they lived, for the most part, on the charity of neighbors and friends. Fortunes changed in 1954 when Joey and his brothers were offered a business venture. Through Joey’s natural business acumen, a lot of hard work and perseverance on the part of everyone in the family and- Joey believes-God’s blessings, the business paid off.
Now, in 1961, Joey was 31, financially successful, and much overworked. On doctor’s orders he took a vacation trip to Europe, where he stayed with relatives in Bari, Italy. While there, his uncle persuaded him to visit San Giovanni Rotondo, the monastery home of Padre Pio, 75 miles away in Foggia.
Reluctantly, for he just wasn’t interested, Joey went to Foggia, arriving in time for the 5 a.m. Mass celebrated by the famous stigmated priest. After Mass, Joey and his uncle knelt with many other men for the Padre’s blessing. When he came to Joey, Padre Pio called him by name, touched him on the cheek and blessed him. That was all. And yet it was everything, for it crystallized all that Joey heard and sensed during this brief stay at the Rotondo-the great affection of the people for this priest, and his extraordinary holiness. For two years afterwards, Joey couldn’t get the presence of Padre Pio out of his soul.
In going to Foggia, Joey had made a tiny opening in his heart for God. Grace had entered and begun the transforming work. Mass and the Sacraments were still only occasional events in Joey’s life, but now he was experiencing the turbulence of conversion. He began to have lights of understanding-about his blindness and the family hardships that had weighed so heavily on him. He began to understand why the financial comfort he’d dreamed about, struggled for, and attained hadn’t brought the joys or peace he’s thought it would. He began to fathom the emptiness.
When Joey returned to Italy in 1963, it was specifically to be again in the presence of that holy man whose seemingly simple blessing had wrought such wonders in his soul.
On the third day of this second visit to the Rotondo, Joey knelt for confession. There was no partition between him and Padre Pio, who grabbed him by the wrist and said, “Joey, confess yourself.” Stunned by this face-to-face encounter, Joey couldn’t speak right away. The Padre said again, “Joey, confess yourself.” Joey began:
“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.”
…but the priest interrupted him.
“Joey, you’re angry, eh?”
“No, Father, I work hard, I’m tired…”
“No, no, Joey, you’re angry, eh?”
As Joey searched his soul for unclouded truths, Padre Pio raised his arm and said, “I call Jesus and Mary for you.” At that moment, which Joey recalls as though it were now, he understood that Padre Pio knew his soul. Joey says, “I felt deeply sorry for every sin I’d ever committed, and I understood that God knew this and Padre Pio knew this, and that I was being absolved of all.”
The Padre touched Joey’s lips, made him kiss the stigmated hand, caressed him and said, “Joey, a little patience, a little courage and you’re going to be all right.”
A few days later, Joey knelt with about 50 other men outside the cloister in the Rotondo waiting for Padre Pio to pass by. Suddenly, Joey threw his arms up and plunged backward to protect himself from what he thought, in his darkness, was an explosion. Actually, it was a scent of roses. But Joey had had no sense of smell for so long that the sensation suggested an explosion to him. Suddenly Padre Pio was next to him and had grabbed him by the arm: “Joey, don’t be afraid.”
Though his olfactory nerve had been severed 16 years earlier in the accident that took also his eyes, Joey had regained his sense of smell. He has no physical faculty to smell, but his sense of smell is as acute as anyone’s-by the grace of God working through Padre Pio.
THE BIG QUESTIONS-AND THE BIG ANSWERS
The friend who had accompanied Joey to San Giovanni on this trip had done so with the understanding that after a week or so the two would go to Garabandal. While Joey’s friend was interested in these reported apparitions, Joey knew nothing of them and, besides he only wanted to stay at San Giovanni where he could be near Padre Pio. Joey persuaded his friend to put the matter before Padre Pio and accept whatever the Padre would say. Joey asked the question:
“Father is it true that the Virgin Mary is appearing to four girls in Spain?”
“The answer was simply: “Yes.”
But Joey still wanted an out, and so he asked:
“Father, should we go to Garabandal?”
The answer again was simply: “Yes.”
And so with the assurance that these apparitions were of God, and following the instructions of Padre Pio, Joey Lomangino went to Garabandal. One would have to consider that day as a major turning point in God’s plan to reach men through the Garabandal event, for, through Joey, the message of Garabandal has spread to millions around the world; Our Lady’s kissed objects, through which she promised Jesus would work prodigies, have been widely distributed: and untold numbers of people have been renewed in the grace and peace of God.
EVERYTHING MUST LEAD TO THE BLESSED SACRAMENT
Between 1963 and Padre Pio’s death in 1968, Joey returned to San Giovanni three or four times each year. There is an interesting anecdote that made an important point to Joey.
During his visits to the Rotondo in 1963, Padre Pio was very affectionate with Joey. When Joey would kneel with the others for a blessing, the Padre would always come up to him especially. He would hug him warmly, give his customary tap on the cheek, and then bless him. But, when Joey returned in 1964, there was none of this. Joey felt the Padre was ignoring him. He missed the special attention, and he thought to himself: “Here I am; I’ve been a daily Communicant for over a year; I spend many hours every day praying, listening to records on the lives of the saints, giving conferences. Before, when I was nowhere, he paid attention; now that I’m doing the right thing he ignores me.”
It disturbed Joey enough to make him bring it up with Mary Pyle 1. This woman told Joey that a year ago he “needed” that attention, and now he did not, for he had found the Blessed Sacrament and thus knew the source of true consolation. She suggested that perhaps Padre Pio was testing him-to make him wonder and find out for himself just how far he’d come. It made some sense to Joey, but the next day solidified it. As he knelt again among many others to await the blessing, the Padre this time came up to Joey, tapped his cheek and said, “Now you understand, eh?”
And Joey has come to understand more and more. In the beginning, people need a lot of consolation, and God provides it- often through other people. But the more they pray, the more they are drawn to find all that they need in Mass and Communion and the presence of God in the Blessed Sacrament. Joey recalls that at first he used to arrive at the Rotondo at 3 a.m. to make sure he had a seat up front for Padre Pio’s 5 a.m. Mass. Then he would scramble to get to the hall outside the sacristy and be first on line for the Padre’s blessing after Mass. But after a while he began to realize that the greatness of the moment was not in Padre Pio but in the Body and Blood, present and sacrificed on the altar. These graces would reach him no matter where he was in the Church; so, too, would the Christ-given power of the priestly blessing reach him-no matter where he was on line.
In 1969, after Padre Pio’s death, Joey went to Foggia and knelt before the Padre’s crypt to say the Rosary. He experienced a tremendous consolation, vivid in his mind even today, and yet difficult to describe. He felt the presence of Padre Pio, so real that it made Joey lift his hands in an attempt to touch him. At the same time that he felt this presence, Joey felt inside of him the knowing conviction that said, “See, Joey, we Christians never die.” It was a moment of inexplicable happiness for Joey, and he will never forget its impact on him.
When Joey meditates on Padre Pio, the words of Our Lady of Garabandal come quickly to his mind: “Pray much for priests that they be holy, for the faithful follow their example.” Joey thinks of Padre Pio’s great power as a priest-a power that is at the disposal of all priests; he thinks of how much he helped people in the confessional, in his ministering of the sacraments, and by the example of his obedience to and reverence for the Holy Father.
For himself, Joey remembers the inspiration provided him through Padre Pio, the inspiration that led him to put himself in the hands of God and thus to know, deep in his soul, that, having done that, God will take care of everything in and around him.
And Joey thinks, too, of Padre Pio’s words to him: “I will be at all your conferences, and I will bless the people.”
1. Mary MacAlpine Pyle was born in 1888 into an extremely wealthy, Protestant family in New York. She became a convert to Catholicism in 1918. In 1923 she met Padre Pio. Shortly afterward, she turned over her vast fortune to the Capuchin Fathers and set up a modest dwelling near the monastery at Foggia, where she remained until her death in 1968. Padre Pio was her confessor and spiritual director, and he accepted her into the Profession of Third Order Franciscan with the name of Sister Pia. For 45 years, she assisted, along with other territories, in the clerical and liturgical needs of the monastery. Her home was always open to visitors, and her humble holiness and joyful peace touched all who met her.