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Can spirits really manifest to us? Is it truly correct to consider "hauntings"? Is there a spiritual -- a Catholic -- aspect to "unsettled souls"?

It's not something you hear during a typical Sunday homily, but the answer, it seems, is yes -- at least of you believe in the mysticism of a saint named Padre Pio (as we certainly do).

Let's jump into a biography of the great saint by Bernard Ruffin (Padre Pio: The True Story):

"One night," it recounts, "Padre Pio was praying alone in the choir when he heard a terrible crash in the darkened church below.

"Hurrying downstairs, he found that the large candles at the base of the statue of the Madonna had been knocked or had fallen to the floor and lay smashed to pieces. The statue of Our Lady was up so high that it would have been difficult even for a tall man to reach the candles without a ladder."

When Pio looked around, says the book, he was amazed to see a Capuchin brother -- a young one he had never before met. Pio asked him what he as doing. "I'm cleaning," answered the monk.

"Cleaning in the dark?" asked Pio brusquely. "Who are you anyway?" 

"I'm a Capuchin novice, doing my purgatory," the man replied -- explaining that he had died years before and was expiating his sin of laziness. "I have need of prayer," he said.

"Well," said Padre Pio, "this is a fine way to do reparation for your sins, by breaking all these candles. Go now. Tomorrow I will say a Mass for you so that you can be freed and no longer have to return here!"

The phantom thanked the famed stigmatic priest and disappeared.

Another time a mysterious man appeared to Padre Pio as the saint was praying in the guest room and this was odd because the door to the guest room was locked, reports Ruffin.

When asked who he was, the man -- the "ghost" -- explained that his name was Pietro DiMauro -- and that he had died in the friary on September 18, 1908, when the friary was still a poor house.

He had started a fire by smoking a cigar in bed and allegedly died in the blaze.

"I am still in purgatory and have need of a Holy Mass to be freed," he said to the Italian mystic. "The Lord has permitted me to come to ask your assistance."

"Tomorrow I will celebrate a Mass for your liberation," said Pio again -- accompanying the man to the door -- through which the stranger vanished into the night.

Other books have recounted how souls of deceased soldiers lined up to see Padre Pio on their way to the afterlife -- looking for final absolution.

In our own time, in our own country, on our own continent, there is a priest named Father Ed Bain of northern California who has seen the same -- not through mysticism but through the reports of those who have sought his aid.

In one case, says the priest (who is now on sabbatical, but who once traveled widely, celebrating healing Masses for thousands), a ghost was set free from a winery. In another case, a young girl who was "haunted" and losing her hair was immediately cured when a Mass was said for the spirit.

If there is a key, says Father Bain, it's for the priest to say a Holy Hour before Mass and those who attend to pray with special fervor. A Mass is always sacred but through the active prayer of attendees gains in power.

Why is the liturgy so powerful in liberation?

"In order to understand a Mass for healing or any other Mass, for that matter, we need to understand of the dynamics of 'anamnesis,'" he says. "Josef Jungmann, the renowned Jesuit scholar, writes in his book The Mass, 'The Whole Mass is before all else an anamnesis... The word implies that the mind turns to past action -- Christ's redeeming work -- to bring it down to the present moment and into the midst of the celebrating community.' Dom Gregory Dix in The Shape of the Liturgy writes, 'Anamnesis has the sense of "re-calling" or "re-presenting" before God an event in the past, so that it becomes here and now operative by its effects. '

"I just simply say a Mass and the ghost is gone," says Father Bain. "No one sees or hears from it again."

[resources: Padre Pio: The True Story]

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