Of all the testimonies of Padre Pio and Garabandal, the one that was to have the greatest impact on the Garabandal movement was that of Joey Lomangino, founder of the Workers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. In fact, it was only because of Padre Pio that Joey became involved in Garabandal.
In 1947, Joey was a competent young man of 16 who helped his father on his truck route of delivering ice and coal in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn, New York. On June 27 of that year, he noticed one of the truck tires needed air. He took the tire off the truck and tolled it a few blocks to a gas station.
As he knelt down putting air in the tire, it exploded, propelling the rim directly into his face. Unconscious and bleeding from the three- inch gash, he was rushed to the hospital where he remained in a coma until the following month.
Then on July 16, Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, he regained consciousness to the blindness he has know ever since. His optic and olfactory nerves had been severed. Not only was he blind but also he had no sense of smell but there was no cure, at least not from a human point of view.
By 1961, Joey was financially secure but all the preoccupations of running a business had worn him out. He needed some time off so his doctor suggested he take a vacation. The last stop on the itinerary was a visit to relatives in Bari, Italy.
When his uncle suggested they take a ride to see Padre Pio at San Giovanni Rotondo- Joey wasn’t interested but realizing the hospitality he was being shown, couldn’t very well refuse.
He didn’t understand much of the Latin coming from the loudspeakers in the church as Padre Pio said the Mass but he sensed something special in the priest’s voice. He couldn’t put his finger on it but there was definitely something there.
After the Mass, Joey’s uncle took him upstairs to a large room through which the Padre Pio always passed. This room was usually filled with men, after the morning Mass, who were there to receive Padre Pio’s blessing as he passed through their midst. Joey and his uncle were among the last ones to enter the room and stood at the back, just inside the door. Joey recounts his experience.
“As Padre Pio came into the room we all knelt down to receive his blessing. Padre Pio was coming from the left hand side of the room across the front. All of a sudden I heard the moving of knees and all; I didn’t know what was going on. Padre Pio had his arms around me and started kissing me on the forehead. He said, “Joey, I am so happy to see you.” When my uncle told me it was Padre Pio embracing me, I was at a loss for words because I was almost the last one in the room and nobody knew I was going to be there, not even myself!”
Joey was deeply impressed. How did Padre Pio know his name? He was dumbfounded but knew he had to return.
He was not able to return in 1962, but planned to return in 1963 with friend Mario Corvias. They would spend part of the trip at San Giovanni and then move on to San Sebastian de Garabandal where Our Lady was reported to be appearing. Going to Garabandal was Mario’s idea.
Arriving in San Giovanni, Joey had his name added to the list of those seeking to confess their sins to Padre Pio. He could never have imagined what was to happen to him when his turn came.
“I went into the confessional, and knelt down on the kneeling bench. Padre Pio was sitting right in front of me. When he took me by the hand I was shocked because I thought of the American confessional with the panel.
As I knelt there with Padre Pio holding onto my hand, he said to me in Italian, “Joey, confess yourself.” To be very honest with you , I was embarrassed because I wasn’t leading the right life. I was flabbergasted and did not know just what to say. So Padre Pio took me by the hand again and said, “Confess yourself.” And again, I just found it very difficult to speak to him.
Then in perfect English he said to me, “Joey, do you remember the sins you committed?” And in perfect English he said to me, “Joey, do you remember when you were in a bar with a woman named Barbara, do you remember the sins you committed?” And in perfect English he went right down the line telling me the people I was with, the places I was at and the sins I committed. Of course, I was perspiring, but I had the grace through God to realize that if I had to endure all that to get back to being happy, it was worth it. I really believed that Father Pio could help me.
When he came to the bottom of all of my sins, and it felt to me like a thousand years, he said in Italian, “Are you sorry?” And I said, “Yes I am, Padre.” Then as he gave me absolution for my sins my eyes started to roll in my head. I started to rub my eyes and my head kept going around and around. Then all of a sudden, my mind became very clear.
Padre Pio put his stigmatized hand to my lips and I kissed the stigmata. Then he gave me a little smack on the face and said in Italian, “Joey, a little patience and a little courage and you’re going to be all right.”
I was 33 years old and I felt I was 16. I had a firm purpose of amendment; I was sorry for all the sins I committed in my life. I felt so good and clean that I didn’t want to get involved with anybody because I was afraid that just by talking, I was going to lose the grace I received.”
But there was still more in store for Joey Lomangino on this fateful trip. After Mass on one of the following mornings, he again found himself in the large room where he had first encountered Padre Pio in 1961. He knelt with the other men to receive the Padre’s blessing as he passed by.
“When I had my injury in 1947, I not only lost my eyes but I lost my sense of smell. So when I knelt down to receive Padre Pio’s blessing, and got the fragrance of roses that came from the wounds in his hands, I was startled and went against the wall with my arms up to protect myself; I didn’t know what it was.
Padre Pio pulled down my hand and said in Italian, “Joey, don’t be afraid.” He then touched me on the bridge of my nose and my sense of smell was restored to me after being without it from the day of my accident in June 1947, which was 16 years.”
Joey was overwhelmed with peace and joy and had no desire to leave San Giovanni. So when Mario reminded him of their agreement to spend part of their vacation in Garabandal, Joey hesitated.
“Mario, how do we know it’s true? Maybe it’s not a true apparition; maybe it’s a trick of the devil to make me lose the graces I just received. Let’s go ask Padre Pio.” So Mario said, “OK.” Of course, we were always given a wonderful reception by the priests at Padre Pio’s so when I asked if it would be OK to speak to Padre Pio the priest said, “Oh, yes, Joe.”
We made arrangements to come back again that same day and greeted Padre Pio in the cloister.
When we knelt down, I said to him, “Padre Pio, is it true that the Virgin is appearing to the four girls of Garabandal?” And he said, “Yes.”
I said, “Padre Pio, should we go there?” He said, “Yes, why not?”
And that’s how it happened. Because I received the assurance from Padre Pio that the Virgin was appearing and that he permitted me to go, then I wasn’t afraid and I went.”