So my Ma and Da are fairly religious. Very religious. They go to mass every day, have a calendar of Pope Benedict in various poses hung over the kitchen table and throughout my childhood I legged it up the stairs with my eyes closed because the 3-foot high statue of the Virgin Mary at the top frightened the living daylights out of me. The Blessed Mother knew what I’d done but if I couldn’t see her then she couldn’t see me and I could sleep tight with only the fear of the bed bugs.
We went on pilgrimages to Fatima and Knock and my earliest memory is my Ma bringing me a stuffed donkey from Lourdes that was so big I could skid around the kitchen lino on it. It was our life, it still is their life. I’ve written about the crisis of faith my Ma has had here before, after the publication of the Ryan Report but she has recovered her belief and I’m happy for her. It’s not something I understand, but to see their faith and the hope they glean from it is staggering to me.
Yesterday they came to visit me from down south laden with clippings from the Examiner, the Evening Echo and a box of sweets from the English Market. My Ma produced a tiny leaflet with the face of Padre Pio on the front of it and an address on South Circular road printed on the back. For those of you who don’t know, Padre Pio is St. Pio of Pietrelcina, a Capuchin priest from Italy who was beatified in 2002.
In 1911 Padre Pio wrote to a fellow priest, explaining how he had begun to develop wounds in his hands and feet, known as stigmata. These wounds are said to represent the suffering of Jesus on the cross and are accompanied by tortured visions of hell.
I could fill this post with quotes and examples of his experiences and reputation but I’m not aiming to verify the existence of stigmata. The jury can stay out on that as far as I’m concerned.
The thing that has always struck me is the utter devotion to him, in Ireland and internationally. People adore him, they beg for his intercession, the put tax and insurance discs in little holders with his face printed on them and then stick them to their windscreen. My Ma and Da are in this gang; they LOVE him. They visited his home town last year and my Ma rubbed her phone off his relics so she could send people blessed text messages.
Anyway, South Circular road. So there we were, hopping off the 19a going in search of Dufferin Avenue. We found the address printed on the back of the leaflet and knocked on the door which had a crumpled print of Pio’s face stuck to it. Inside the 3 story red brick house is essentially a shrine to Padre Pio.
The sitting room on the left has been converted into a shop selling postcards, DVDs, medals, little plastic holders for tax and insurance discs and mass cards. Letters from all over the world are preserved in a glass case thanking the Irish Padre Pio foundation for the work they do. An elderly man showed us a glass box containing a brown, woollen fingerless glove once worn by the saint himself. He gave it to us and instructed us to take it upstairs to the chapel and pray with it. On the way upstairs we saw two rooms filled with papers and boxes, correspondence to be answered from many devotees.
The chapel is a tiny room on the second floor overlooking a perfectly normal Dublin street, complete with parking meter and recycling bins ready for emptying. It’s dotted with pictures of Pio’s birthplace, his wounds, the church dedicated to his memory in Pietrelcina and a few chairs for the Dublin faithful. My Ma prayed and my Da held the relics. I watched them and thanked God, if there is one, for the stuff that binds them together.
The most surreal thing about the house is that on the 3rd floor there’s a solicitor’s office, Maguire Muldoon. I wonder if they’re in on the whole shrine thing or if it was just a good price on a nice office? Maybe they have to pay indulgences, I like to think so. When the coin in the coffer rings, so the soul to heaven springs.
It was hard to pick a moment to leave. How do you head off back into town for a few pints after spending an afternoon in a chapel/religous shop/shrine snugly encased in a south Dublin terraced house? The lure of the World Cup drew my Da out of his religious fervour and we traipsed back to Grafton St.
Padre Pio is not an inspiration to me. I do not beg for his intercession nor adore his image. But if he’s lending his name to a safe house of calm in the city that asks for no money to enter and offers people a place to sit and feel a small bit better about life, the saint done good by me.