NEW BEGINNINGS (The Philippine Star) - October 17, 2015 - 10:00am

Someone told me that “when prayers go up, blessings come down.” That’s the mystery of faith.

To have faith is to have a relationship with the unseen God. Faith is about knowing and believing that God is with you even if stillness is the order of the moment.

Faith is what the devotees of St. Padre Pio display every time they whisper a prayer at the National Shrine of St. Padre Pio in San Pedro, Sto. Tomas, Batangas. Every day, the wall-less church of the shrine welcomes pilgrims from all parts of the country, some come from other parts of the world. On Sundays, there are 25,000 to 35,000 devotees who flock to the 4.1-hectare vicinity of the shrine. Their lips mumble prayers as they open their hearts, the vessels that will catch the blessings. They leave the shrine with happiness. It’s quite electrifying to see thousands of people leaving the shrine with happy faces.

“It’s people’s faith in God and in the intercession of St. Padre Pio,” explains Fr. Joselin “Jojo” Gonda, 56, parish priest and shrine rector, why pilgrims flock to the church. “And they feel blessed. They receive graces from God through their devotion to St. Padre Pio.”

Fr. Jojo says prayers whispered at the shrine that were answered by God through the intercession of St. Padre Pio include the healing of devotees with cancer. “Even my sister got healed of her colon and lung cancer because of her devotion to St. Padre Pio,” Fr. Jojo says, adding that medical intervention is also needed for total healing. “But how do you explain devotees getting healed of terminal illness, stage 4 cancer?” These are people who only need a miracle, to quote a doctor friend, to survive. And to live a meaningful life again. 


St. Padre Pio (Francesco Forgione, OFM Cap.) was born on May 25, 1887 in Pietrelcina, Italy. He became a priest on Aug. 10, 1910 and received the gift of stigmata on Sept. 20, 1918. He died on Sept. 23, 1968. After his beatification in 1999, Pope John Paul II, who is also now a saint, canonized St. Padre Pio on June 16, 2002. His devotees began to spread around the world after his canonization as a result of many miracles attributed to his sainthood.

“Padre Pio was very holy until he died. His holiness was not only shown through praying but by being intimate with God,” says Fr. Jojo, whose devotion to the saint started when he was in grade school.

“He was very close to Christ to the point that he got the stigmata, the five wounds in his hands, feet and side. He prayed to God: ‘I know how you have been suffering in the cross. Let me share in your suffering.’ After praying, he collapsed. When he woke up, he had the stigmata.”

Aside from being intimate with Christ, Padre Pio also loved celebrating the Mass, according to Fr. Jojo. He says that it was always the intention of Padre Pio to bring closer to God the prayers of the faithful. “So he took the confession of the sinners very seriously. He was very gentle with the sinners. He wanted them converted. Also, he had an extreme devotion to Mama Mary.”

Fr. Jojo says, “Padre Pio’s life did not stop in the monastery. He built a home for the relief of the sick and suffering. It’s a free first-class hospital, with all the top-of-the-line hospital facilities donated by people from all over the world.”

He adds, “Padre Pio had a habit of bringing cookies.  Mula sa kaniyang bulsa, inaabutan niya ng cookies ang mga tao. What’s special about him, he had a strong faith  that his prayer could be converted into reality. May cancer ang isang tao, pag nagpapadasal sa kaniya, gumagaling. He lived a life filled with deep prayers. He was very simple as a priest. He loved making sacrifices. He would share his food with others.”

The other human side of Padre Pio that Fr. Jojo read about was the former’s temper.

Sabi nila meron siyang temper, especially when he’s treated like a celebrity. He did not like being photographed and being the focus of people’s attention. It was clear to Padre Pio that he was the intercessor. God should still be the focus.”


The shrine was initially established as a parish in San Pedro, Sto. Tomas, Batangas in 2003 by Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales with Fr. Dale Anthony Barretto-Ko as its first parish priest. The following year, residents of the area Ernesto and Adelaida Gonzaga donated 1.6 hectares of land where the church now stands. In 2008, Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles declared the existing church structure, made from bamboo and nipa, as the Archdiocesan Shrine of St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina.

When Fr. Jojo was appointed as the parish priest in 2009, the construction of the main church began. In the succeeding years, adjacent lots were acquired to make the total land area 4.1 hectares where the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, Chapel of the Saints, the belfry, the Parish Rectory, the Sanctuary of the True Cross of Christ, the St. John Marie Vianney Chapel of Reconciliation among other structures were erected.

On July 11, 2015, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines voted unanimously to declare it the National Shrine of St. Padre Pio. The solemn declaration was held on Sept. 14 this year.

Fr. Jojo says the construction of the shrine is a miracle in itself. “The parish only had P10,000 when we decided to have the church constructed. I prayed for the intercession of St. Padre Pio. And donations poured in.”

In appearance, the church is one big salakot. Even the other structures around the church bear salakot in their roofs. “Salakot is used by farmers and fishermen around the Philippines. It symbolizes God’s protection on His children,” says Fr. Jojo, whose Filipiniana design was the basis of Batangueño architect Julius Pio Raña to build the church. Engineers Jaime Cancio and Willie Carpio helped in turning Fr. Jojo’s design ideas into reality.


The devotion of people to St. Padre Pio reminds Fr. Jojo, a diocesan priest for 30 years, of the book written by Henri Nouwen, a Dutch-born Catholic priest and writer, on the importance of going back to one’s goodness.

Ang naturelesa ng tao ay ang gumawa ng kabutihan. That’s absolute. We were created good. Mabuti ang ginawa ng Diyos. We were born clean; as we grow older, nadumihan tayo nang nadumihan,” he says.

But it is always the birthright of man to go back to God. To go back to his original goodness.

“The purpose of man is not only to be alone. It is to share himself with others in love and goodness. Not only in marriage. Loving people, serving people, offering yourself to promote goodness to the world — those are ways to go back to man’s original goodness,” he adds.

In his homily, he always espouses selflessness, other-orientedness, being altruistic, being generous to others, having the capacity to change lives, impacting change and giving others directions.

Sa halip na bumibigat ang pakiramdam ng tao sa iyong presensya, dapat ay gumagaan ang pakiramdam ng taong nasa harapan mo,” explains Fr. Jojo.

At the end of the day, it is faith that sustains man to continue his life, to believe that another glorious day awaits at the end of a long night.




(For your new beginnings, please e-mail me at I’m also on Instagram @bumtenorio. Have a blessed Sunday!)

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